The best thriller writers are adept at tapping into current events for their plots. With civil unrest destabilizing the government of Venezuela, an Amazon Prime series and a bestselling book provide two ways for fans to lose sleep until finishing that last episode or chapter.
In the first season of Jack Ryan, the Amazon Prime series based on characters from Tom Clancy’s books, the CIA analyst turned action hero helped to bring down the terrorist Suleiman. (Click to read our review.) Promoted to head up the CIA’s Terror, Finance, and Arms Division (T-FAD), Jack Ryan (John Krasinski) is temporarily working on Capitol Hill for Senator Jim Moreno (Benito Martinez). When intelligence reveals that Russia may be shipping nuclear weapons to Venezuela, Ryan and Moreno travel to Caracas to confront the country’s president, Nicolás Reyes (Jordi Mollà).
Jack’s former boss, James Greer (Wendell Pierce), formerly station chief in Moscow, requested reassignment to Venezuela. Suffering from a serious heart ailment, Greer hopes he can stay in the game without risking his health. Meeting up with Ryan, however, places Greer very much on the front lines as they join forces to battle enemies, not only in Venezuela, but also in London and Washington, D.C. While Venezuela cannot boast a sable government, what it does possess are vast resources, including more oil reserves than any of the Middle Eastern countries, making it a target for rogue players.
Mike November (Michael Kelly), the CIA station chief in Venezuela, tries to run interference for Ryan, an effort that becomes increasingly challenging after Ryan threatens Reyes to his face. November is twice divorced from the U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, Lisa Calabrese (Susan Misner), who berates her former husband for making her job more difficult. Ryan does get help from Harriet Baumann (Noomi Rapace), but doesn’t quite trust the agent from the German Federal Intelligence Service.
Before he left Russia, Greer was following up on tips of his own, enlisting an ad hoc Seal Team led by Matice (John Hoogenakker), to make its way by river to where containers are being off loaded from ships. Ryan joins them, hoping they will find evidence that Russia is indeed sending nuclear weapons to Venezuela. The mission goes awry, however, and one of the team members is left to fend for himself in the jungle.
The series depicts Venezuela as a country in turmoil. (The series was actually filmed in Colombia.) Food shortages have resulted in long lines outside stores. A country that once boasted a vibrant middle class now has its people starving. Not even the police have escaped the effects, with many officers wearing uniforms that are several sizes too large. The disparity between the ruling class and the people is even more striking juxtaposed with scenes from Reyes’ daughter’s quinceañera, with lavish decorations and tables overflowing with food
Hope arrives in the form of a challenger to Reyes’ rule, Gloria Bonalde (Cristina Umaña), who decided to run after the disappearance of her husband, once an environmental official working for Reyes. With polls showing Bonalde gaining on Reyes, the president resorts to any method, including assassinating those who oppose him, to shore up his authority.
Venezuelan officials have criticized the series for its depiction of their country. But those who believe Venezuela may find a way forward from its current devastating state of affairs can’t be faulted for hoping that life may one day imitate art.
Top photo: John Krasinski as Jack Ryan (Photo by Jennifer Clasen/Amazon Prime Video)
The Deserter: A Novel
No one is better at keeping his finger on the pulse of current events than Nelson DeMille. His last novel The Cuban Affair (see the review), focused on Cuba, where relations, once warming under President Obama, are in the deep freeze under President Trump. Nelson, joined by his son, Alex, set The Deserter in Venezuela.
Chief Warrant Officer Scott Brodie and his partner Warrant Officer Maggie Taylor, are called to the office of the Provost Marshall General in Quantico, Virginia. Brodie thinks it’s because he shot a mule on their last assignment. The fact that the animal was charging should have been enough to exonerate him. While the dead mule is mentioned, Brodie and Taylor are being summoned for an assignment: to travel to Venezuela to capture a deserter, Kyle Mercer, a member of the 1st Special Forces Operation Detachment, well known as Delta Force. Mercer had walked off his post in Afghanistan, was captured by the Taliban, and endured two long years as a prisoner. He managed to escape, but rather than return to the U.S., he made a video resigning from the military. He was last seen in Caracas, “murder capital of the world.”
Brodie and Taylor start at the beginning, interviewing the person who had seen Mercer in Caracas. Although the witness said the sighting occurred in a hotel, Mercer was actually seen in a place called The Hen House, a prostitution operation in one of the most dangerous areas of the city. Not only was Mercer seen there, he seemed to be running the show. With The Hen House guarded by a well-armed group of men, Brodie knows getting in and out with Mercer will not be easy. That turns out to be an understatement when the operation goes south and Brodie and Taylor barely escape with their lives. Venezuela is a country on the edge and Brodie and Taylor are never far away from danger.
Like Jack Ryan, Brodie knows he can’t trust even those in charge. And when he and Taylor finally locate Mercer what they learn confirms that his instincts were right.
Brodie is similar to DeMille’s most famous character, John Corey, who was always quick with a wise crack and often (more than often) had sex on his mind. DeMille’s talent is injecting the narrative with enough humor to break up the tension without losing any of the plot’s momentum. While Nelson DeMille’s reputation is well established, his son seems also to be making his mark. This is Alex DeMille’s debut novel, but he has won numerous awards for his screenplays and films. Whether future pairings will result in another book or a film, we will wait and see.