by Jeffrey S. Stephens
Thriller writers can evoke different kinds of fear. There’s that boogeyman kind of fear you feel as Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs heads down the stairs to the basement where Jame Gumb is waiting to cut away her skin. There’s the psychologically scary “this can’t be happening” fear you feel when Tessie from The Lottery opens the white slip with the black dot, a nightmarish moment that might forever change the way you view “normality” in your life. And then there’s the slow-burn fear you feel as you scroll through CNN headlines and realize that the terrorism that’s happening in the real world could suddenly hit right here and now.
That’s the kind of fear that crept up on me as I experienced the unfolding events in Jeffrey Stephens’ ROGUE MISSION, the latest thriller featuring CIA operative Jordan Sandor. As someone who spends a good bit of the work week in Washington, DC in a job that requires me to pay attention to politics, I’ll admit to having a certain mindset. In the hour or so before I head to my office I typically scan half a dozen headlines that have something to do with terrorism “somewhere else.” Many days I purposefully push the knowledge that it could/might/probably will happen in my beloved Nation’s Capital into the locked room at the back of my mind.
Fortunately, terrorism hasn’t happened in DC in the years since 911. Unfortunately, Jeffrey Stephens has stepped up my fear of how easily it could happen thanks to his clear and compelling understanding of geopolitics and the ease with which terrorists can infiltrate trusted financial, humanitarian and governmental sectors. Like other Jordan Sandor stories, the plot takes the CIA operative to places around the world, this time in what really is a “rogue mission” fostered by his ability to connect dots that no one else is able to see. From the opening scenes, which show how easy it could be to sneak explosives into a U.S. Courthouse (scenes I actually read while on jury duty!), you know something big and terrible is coming. You don’t learn what it is for certain until way later in the story, but that won’t stop your mind from wondering “is it this . . . ? Or this . . . ?”
Eventually I learned the scenario was actually more hateful than an attack on my city, which hopefully is fortified and surveilled well-enough to fend off the kind of terror ROGUE MISSION’s villains are plotting to unleash. That revelation showed an extra level of depravity among the bad guys who are the architects of the death and destruction, and spurred my disgust at those who are complicit either because of naively leftist mindsets and actions, or because they have something to gain from it.
Stephens’ ability to evoke the “oh God, this could really happen?” kind of fear is just one reason why this thriller will appeal to fans of Jack Du Brul, Brad Thor, Daniel Silva and the late Vince Flynn. A few other reasons include Jordan Sandor’s wise-cracking personality, adeptness with violence, and indisputable moral code. You’re going to laugh fairly often at his snarky, snappy comebacks to assertions of authority. You’re going to marvel at the way he handles his guns, knives and fists. But what you’ll admire most is his devout loyalty to his friends and his country as the driving force in everything he does. Simply put, he’s a lot like Jack Bauer with a sense of humor, or a more realistically imaginable Jack Reacher, and ultimately the kind of friend you’d love to have in real life.
For these reasons and more, ROGUE MISSION is one of the best books I’ve read in this genre. I wasn’t just captivated by it. I believed every word of it. So much so that when I reached the last page and looked from the living room of my DC apartment toward my straight-on view of the White House I actually had to check the lock on that door to that back room on my mind and tell myself: “It won’t happen here.”
That is, unless Jeffrey Stephens decides to write it that way in his next Jordan Sandor novel, which I will have no choice but to read.