By Basil Sands
Sandman Products of Alaska, 2012
When you think about terrorism and plots to kill and maim the president of the United States and as many civilians as possible, you don’t usually picture the action taking place in Anchorage, Alaska. I mean, what’s in Alaska that would even bring the president in the first place? And how would a terrorist cell manage to get the needed materials in a state that relies on barged- and flown-in supplies every few days? The supply line alone would be problematic.
But Anchorage author Basil Sands is undaunted by the challenges, and barges ahead with his thriller. Fairbanks-based Alaska State Trooper Lonnie Johnson is in town with her husband, retired Marine Corps Special Ops officer Marcus Johnson (AKA ‘Mojo’), to attend the wedding of two good friends. Eight months pregnant, Lonnie envisions her time in Anchorage as one of relaxing with her husband while seeing her friends off on their honeymoon.
Her plans are ghastly disrupted when the newlyweds, pulling out of the driveway after the reception, are smashed by a speeding car, which kills them instantly, along with the driver of the other car. Lonnie witnesses the accident, and is devastated and angry. Her stubborn intent to discover just why the other driver was going hell-bent for leather on a narrow, winding road in a residential area leads her and Marcus to the local FBI office, where they work with Mike and Hilda Farris to find out what is going on.
They are led through numerous twists and turns, indulge in some night-time reconnaissance, take a detour when Lonnie is threatened by an old nemesis she put in jail, and find themselves always one step behind the cunning man who has put a stunning plan into motion.
As Lonnie, Mojo, Mike, and Hilda are drawn further into the intrigue, they discover the world of international spyfare and war, learning more about the U.S. Government’s black ops around the world, and particularly, the chaos that is the Middle East. And they discover a shadowy figure once called Al Gul, birth name Kharzai Ghiassi, who has been a double agent for the CIA for decades. He has helped the U.S. agency capture and kill numerous al Qaeda and other terrorist organizational leaders, not just for the money, but because he believes the blind fanaticism is dangerous to him and all like him.
But something has caused him to turn against his former employers – to work against them with the same blind hatred he once condemned. As the Alaskans get closer to Ghiassi and his plans, they discover what truly motivates a man to hate. And why this particular motive cannot be derailed – only by stopping the man can they stop the plot.
Turns out, in a bit of coincidence, the U.S. president is going to be in Anchorage, a bit of information only a master spy could have discovered and exploited with enough time to disrupt the event with mayhem and blood.
Sands, with a background in the Marines and Department of Defense, knows his ops and thriller well. The story is well-plotted, enough so that what could seem to be major coincidences not possible actually become plausible in his hands. A resident of Anchorage, he has his characters in and out of places not on the usual tourist route, giving the story depth and a feeling of familiarity. His characters are well defined, growing and becoming more real with each page. None are caricatures – Lonnie, far from being a Super trooper, struggles with swollen ankles, gas, clumsiness, and all the other discomforts of late pregnancy. The two FBI agents are far from robotic suits with hidden agendas and disdain for the locals.
But it is in Ghiassi that Sands shows his character-building skills. This is a man who has been double-dealing his entire life, who always talks with double and triple meaning, but rather than the cold-hearted, emotionless bastard out to destroy the world, the Ghiassi who turns on his CIA masters and the United States is a man with a deep hurt and blinding anger, who cannot see anything but that anger, or feel anything but that hurt, and, like a child, wants to hurt those who hurt him. And yet, he shows glimpses of good, some murmurs of his former self. He even saves Lonnie’s life at one point, even though he knows she’s bound and determined to find him and ruin his plan.
Thrillers are fun reads—exotic locales, fascinating people, intriguing drama — if they have been plotted right. Sands has done his work well, and this one is all the more fun because it’s set in the most exotic and fascinating place of all – my own backyard.