The Big Apple doesn’t fall far from the terrorist plot

By A Contributor

A HOLE IN THE APPLE Harley Carnes Premier Digital Publishing, 2011 434 Pages

Walt Braun Contributing Writer

Foremost among the nightmares that keep U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials awake at night are terrorist attacks using nuclear devices in America’s great cities. In “A Hole in The Apple,” Harley Carnes, a CBS News radio correspondent, has come up with an eerily plausible scenario for just such a disaster.

He combines Hasan Al-Rashid, a Yemeni who is a dangerous and sought-after terrorist; Alexei Mikhailovsky, a retired Soviet general whose expertise is no longer appreciated in Russia and who has access to nuclear weapons; and the Caldera brothers, who control a sprawling Colombian drug empire.

The protagonist is John Boulder, a CIA agent who went into semi-retirement shortly after Al-Rashid eluded his grasp and killed his partner. Boulder is lured back to duty when the CIA gets word that Al-Rashid is planning an attack in New York City. And when the first attempt to intercept the terrorist goes awry and fellow agents are involved in a firefight on the George Washington Bridge, New York’s mayor -— who wasn’t aware of the threat to his city — and other U.S. security agencies become involved.

Al-Rashid’s plan involves nothing less than detonating a device in a tunnel essential to New York City’s water supply, an action that could make the city unlivable for years.

The Colombian drug kingpins enter the plot when Al-Rashid seeks their assistance making connections with some of New York’s seedier individuals.

The Russian general, who’s had little to live for since the fall of the Soviet Union, provides the bomb.

The plot unfolds on multiple fronts — in New York City, in Colombia, in Russia and at sea as the bomb is being transported to America.

Although it’s easy to loathe the drug dealers and the terrorists, the Russian general, a nationalist who served his country honorably for years, is a more sympathetic character.

If the plot sounds far-fetched, it shouldn’t. Not so long ago, the notion of terrorists flying commercial jetliners from American airports into the World Trade Center seemed unthinkable. Now, almost nothing falls into that category.

While the author handles the big picture superbly, he risks losing the reader in a couple of places, such as a never-ending fight between Boulder and Al-Rashid in the bowels of the tunnel and an aerial chase in which Boulder takes control of a helicopter and with the assistance of an F-16 and an A-10 Warthog deals with Al-Rashid once and for all.

A petty gripe is with the protagonist’s name: John Boulder. Yes, it’s a strong, masculine name, but it’s also a cliché. It calls to mind, at least to comic book readers of a certain age, a GI named Sgt. Rock.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the book comes in the form of a discussion Boulder and a couple of comrades have after the excitement is over. Their conversation about how much the government ought to tell the public in such emergencies and their thoughts about the endless nature of the war against terrorism speak volumes about some of the threats to this country and about the people in the front lines of the battle.

“A Hole in the Apple” has a couple of blemishes, but it’s a darn good tale that carries a message Americans ought to hear.

Walt Braun is editorial page editor of The Mercury.

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