Christopher Whitcomb,
(Little, Brown & Co., 2004)

Black may not be the most disappointing book ever, but it's close.

Blame for the book's failure could be placed on the flat characters mercilessly trapped within cliches of personality, so that by the end no connection has been made with the reader. Each is recognizable immediately as Bad Guy or Bad Guy's Less Evil Sidekick or, worst of all, Ruthless Sex Object Who Sleeps With Anyone to Obtain Corporate Secrets.

Our "main character," Jeremy Waller, is an FBI agent who has recently been accepted into the elite Hostage Rescue Team. To his astonishment, the team is less about rescue than elimination of enemies of the American government. Stupidly, he begins a bold campaign to uncover the source of these execution orders and expose the guilty parties involved.

Sure it's noble, I just think you shouldn't spread the plan around -- especially not to the very criminals you are hoping to trap.

In addition to this exciting plotline, there are several subplots that seem just to be confusing sideline information, leaving the reader to wonder how they could possibly all tie together in the end. But yes, finally the framed-for-murder senator, the above-mentioned bad guys and sex object, and several less well-formed but still pertinent characters do all meet in a Stunning Climax, which you won't believe!

Really, it's completely unbelievable. So infuriatingly so that I wanted to tell you just how it all goes down, thus sparing you the cost of repairing the wall at which you will throw the book. My editor says no, that's not appropriate behavior for a reviewer. So fine, I'm not telling, and you'll simply have to take my word on this. The end is such a ridiculous twist that it feels like a betrayal.

It is difficult to discern from what perspective this novel is being written. Whitcomb himself is a former sniper for the HRT, which gives him a unique knowledge of the secret inner workings of our government. At times the story feels like a tell-all expose of government excess and evil-doing, at others it is a patriotic tribute to those soldiers who "just do their job," a job many of us would never have the courage to attempt. This is not a part of the novel with which I have complaint, however. I came to the conclusion that it is probably a little of both, that it is possible to be patriotic and jaded in equal measure. Many U.S. citizens are questioning similar points, and it is not always easy to be sure where to stand. In this way Black is a timely addition to the commentary on the current political state.

It would be interesting to read Whitcomb's previous book, Cold Zero, which is a factual account of his time with the FBI. It might provide some insight, which appears to be attempted but not accomplished in this book.

Perhaps I am simply not the audience for whom Black was written. A better knowledge of military workings and procedures might have allowed me to forgive less than perfect literary skills. With consideration to language, the novel is acceptable, and so it is my hope that Whitcomb contiues to write; I think with the maturation of his abilities will come an interesting new resource for the understanding of the American military.

- Rambles
written by Katie Knapp
published 17 July 2004

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