x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Based in Yemen, newest DeMille novel The Panther lacks bite

In Nelson DeMille's The Panther, a former New York City police officer turned anti-terrorist agent takes on a megalomaniacal terrorist in Yemen.

The Panther
Nelson DeMille
Sphere
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The Panther arrives as the sixth Nelson DeMille novel to feature John Corey, a former New York City police officer turned anti-terrorist agent.

Corey is the very embodiment of the author's trademark dry wit. Fresh off a previous encounter with a Libyan terrorist mastermind, Corey, along with his wife, FBI agent Kate Mayfield, reluctantly contemplate a return to the Middle East when the pair are assigned to Yemen to take down "The Panther", the brains behind a series of anti-western attacks.

To say Corey isn't happy about his new posting is a gross understatement.

Apart from the gallons of vitriol he pours on what he believes are the backwards, misogynistic, uncouth, khat-chewing Yemeni people, DeMille's protagonist takes several large swipes at his superiors, other members of the anti-terrorist team and just about anyone else unfortunate enough to cross his path. In total, Corey's jibes at the establishment display a big slice of malice, reek of petty injustices and contain more than a hint of Islamophobia.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Panther himself, Bulus ibn-Al Darwish. A Yemeni-American seething with delusions of grandeur and vengeance against the western infidels, Al Darwish slips all too easily into the role of a stereotypical Arab megalomaniac.

Though some light is shed on his formative years in the United States and how he became radicalised, these revelations are mostly shoehorned into a one-dimensional US Department of Defense-style analysis and, for the most part, show a complete lack of critical depth or balanced perspective.

For those hoping that decent characterisation can be salvaged from the supporting cast, this is sadly not the case. While far more politically correct in mindset than the previously mentioned protagonist and antagonist, they are mostly defined by a set of standard personality traits as befitting of their character types: examples include Paul Brenner (also know as "the Brooding Mercenary With a Past"), and Buckminster Harris, who comes across every bit as pretentious as his name. The most disappointing in all of these is Kate, Corey's wife, who, despite her occupation as an FBI agent, remains benched for most of the proceedings.

Meanwhile, the plot takes its time to build the suspense. Perhaps a little too much time, as the majority of its structure is based on some overlong exposition of locations and character backgrounds.

The novel is further padded with plenty of drawn-out dialogue, the sole purpose of which seems to be validating Corey's unique, if usually offensive, sense of humour.

As the mission finally hits some predictable snags, the action sequences fizzle off into largely anti-climactic solutions.

Devoted DeMille fans will find something to enjoy in the return of their favourite characters, but first-time readers might be better off avoiding this one.