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The Siege by Stephen White

I told you I've been reading.  I had about three reviews backlogged and waiting to be typed up and posted of which this review of The Siege by Stephen White is the second.  I don't normally read books like this... and by books like this, I mean, high stakes thrillers that feel generic.  I put this book in the same category as the conspiracy theory/intrigue/black ops/historical-discovery-of-global-importance-that-will-shatter-all-our-notions-of-history/religion/life-as-we-know-it thrillers that star spies or other former elite special forces operators.  Not that there's anything wrong with those books, they just usually aren't my bag of tea when it comes to reading, and so I tend to shy away from them.  So why I read this one, I don't know except that it's been on my reading list forever, and I thought there must be some reason why I put it there, so why don't I give it a shot because I'm sure it'll be a quick read.  Well.  I read the first 100 pages and then I skipped a section.  Then I checked back in with the story and skimmed a few pages before I skipped another section.  And then I settled in to read the remainder of the novel because goshdarnit I wanted to know who's causing all this trouble and why because, as is repeatedly shared throughout the story, this troublemaker isn't the average troublemaker causing trouble for the average reasons (which usually means just for kicks).

An unnamed, faceless assailant has taken hostage the children of some of the most powerful and influential people in America (and woe betide the families who have no information of enough interest to the assailant for him to strike a deal with them for their children's lives).  Holed up in the tomb of a secret society on the campus of Yale University (talk about a public relations nightmare), the assailant's had the upper hand in this rodeo for days before anyone ever knew there was a rodeo.  The building that is ground zero is a literal stone fortress; it's windowless with limited access points that make it impossible for the authorities to gather intelligence about what's going on inside the building, who's inside the building, and what it looks like inside the building.  Bypassing the hostage negotiators, the perpetrator deals directly with the families of the hostages, thus he doesn't act like the typical hostage taker nor are his demands or his endgame typical.

One by one the perpetrator releases hostages throughout a days long ordeal.  The students' fates are determined by their parents' willingness to acquiesce to the demands of the man who holds them hostage, and these demands essentially ask the parents to prioritize their children's safety over the security of the nation and the lives of millions of American citizens.  Most chillingly, the perpetrator demonstrates an ability to remain several steps ahead of the FBI, to adhere unerringly to his master plan, and to manipulate the authorities to his advantage.

On the ground in New Haven, Connecticut, are FBI special agent Christopher Poe, a damaged, perpetually grieving man, who heads the counterterrorism unit; Sam Purdy, a suspended police detective from Colorado, who's been talked into being the eyes and ears for the family of one of the students taken hostage; and Deirdre Drake, Poe's married lover and the woman who's helped him survive these long years since the tragedy that took his family, is a gifted intelligence analyst for the CIA with a knack for making prescient analyses gleaned from the data she studies.  These three form an uneasy alliance and conduct their own clandestine, off grid, under the radar, unofficial, unsanctioned investigation.  Several layers removed from the tensions, conflicts and emotions of the official investigation headquartered adjacent to ground zero, the distance will prove vital in the analysis of the correct pathology of the perpetrator and his endgame.  This intelligence is gleaned by what the perpetrator chooses to reveal of himself to the public and to the authorities through the videos he uploads to the internet, through the words he feeds his hostages to regurgitate to the hostage negotiators, and through the means by which he chooses to murder some hostages in cold blood on live TV while allowing others to live.  

At its core this is a story of epic terrorism on a scale of epic, near impossible, proportions.  While it's often a tragic, gut wrenching story in regards to the hostages, it is infuriating and frustrating in regards to the fact that the nameless, faceless, diabolical antagonists are always--always--ALWAYS--one step ahead of the authorities seeking to thwart their plans, rescue the hostages, and bring the perpetrators to justice.  As a result the FBI and the local law enforcement agencies look just this side of incompetent.  THIS IS WHY I DITCHED THE FOLLOWING, people: because the serial killer and his followers were always, usually, several steps ahead of the FBI--like THEY HAD MOLES IN THE FBI AND THE LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES.  Anyway, as you can see I'm still bitter about that TV show.  Getting back to The Siege: the antagonists know the FBI's playbook for situations such as these and have meticulously planned for every possible contingency (because these people don't play and they're not your average troublemakers, okay?).  Meanwhile, the local police department and the FBI are basically left twiddling their thumbs, hog tied and looking powerless and incompetent.  There is also the sense that there are intentional references to events occurring earlier in the story as well as to elements, entities and acronyms that are integral to the plot but which are never fully expounded or elaborated upon.  Of course, I could have missed these explanations when I skipped those two sections, but I'm not going back now to skim them on the off chance that I find the answers (because by now I'm a little over this even though I still want to know how it ends and who did it).  While the perpetrator's identity and motives are revealed at the very end, he nonetheless remains basically nameless and faceless because for the entire story he remains hidden from the FBI and the reader.  Ultimately, this is an unsatisfying, 'happy' ending--the perpetrator is caught only because he wishes to be caught, and his motives essentially boil down to revenge and an ensuing need to 'teach America a lesson' at the deliberate, purposeful expense of innocent civilian lives.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

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