It is hard to ignore the right wing politics of this book, which is a shame, because it is a genuine page-turner with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing, a more than adequate beach read that anyone of any political persuasion should be able to enjoy.
I say this as a conservative who largely agrees with the author, Michael Walsh's, not so subtle message about the West's 50 year attempt at suicide through a combination of low birth rates, a culture that celebrates mediocrity, and our cult of guilt over doing what it takes to survive in a dangerous world.
But the various characters' long inner monologues on these and many more topics get old by the middle of the book, and I found myself skimming over these sections to get to an actual plot development. In fact, Hostile Intent reminded me a little of the writings of Ayn Rand, in that the stories are simply a vehicle for her morality lessons. Combine Alex Berenson with Ayn Rand, and you probably get something similar to Michael Walsh.
Walsh says he wrote Hostile Intent to honor the intelligence officers and secret agents that live lives of extreme danger and even greater loneliness. This is certainly a laudable goal, especially considering the beating the CIA is now taking over their interrogation practices, but if he wanted to honor these men, he might have started by making the hero of the story likeable. Instead, we get Devlin, an arrogant and fundamentally immoral, highly trained and lethal government agent of an elite, unknown agency who does what he does not for any love of country, but only because it is what he was raised to do.
So rather than illustrate the case for allowing the men and women of the military and intelligence communities to do what it takes to protect the American people, Walsh creates a character guided by no sense of shared humanity with those he is working to protect. This is exactly the caricature of the CIA and many of our fine fighting men and women that the Left is so rightly criticized for trying to depict.
Walsh tries at times to make you feel for Devlin and give you a glimpse of his humanity. For instance, at one point, Devlin kills some FBI agents who were being used as pawns against him. The brief pang of remorse he shows toward one woman agent is later ruined when you find out the callous way in which he piles up their bodies for the authorities to find. Similarly, Devlin's romance with a mysterious Arab woman comes across as absurdly rushed and totally unbelievable.
The chief villain of the story, Emmanuel Skorzeny is far more interesting than the protagonist. The character of Skorzeny is pretty much just equal parts a Bond villain, Leigh Teabing from The DaVinci code, and George Soros. Still, this makes his long soliloquies and rants about the fall of Western civilization are less frustrating, because it comes across as more believable from a villain. Furthermore, Walsh adeptly keeps you guessing through most of the book as to what Skorzeny's true goals and motivations are.
Hostile Intent's other main failing is the incessant amount of techno babble. Yes, a spy novel is inherently going to involve some pretty cool and far-fetched pieces of technology - that's part of the appeal, but Walsh really lays it on thick, and the result is entire paragraphs that are pretty much gibberish, at least to the typical reader. Simply put, the fantastic technologies just didn't come across as believable, and the invasiveness of them again undercuts, I think, Walsh's stated goal for the book, as a rebuke to those who so reflexively demonize our intelligence communities.
So why am I giving this book 4 stars? Because it succeeds as a thriller. There are lots of twists and turns and it kept me guessing to the very end. Furthermore, Walsh writes actions scenes very well, and you can really see the fight scenes play out in your head as you read along. I thoroughly enjoyed the read, especially considering the price - I nabbed it for free during one of the Kindle promotions.
I just wish the politics of the book were a little easier to overlook because novels with an overtly political message are inherently going to be judged that way. This either alienates those who come from an opposite point of view, or frustrates people like me who find the way it is dealt with clumsy.