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Another melodramatic installment of Lee's Office 119 series sees the international police force racing to unravel a conspiracy that could lead to a 21st-century holocaust. After a series of riots in Europe culminate in an attack on the Grande Mosquée de Paris, the new president of the EU shepherds Muslims into "protection zones." As religious factions the Stewards and Saif Al Sharaawi prepare for the coming storm, agents Bächle, Renault and Caine of Office 119 investigate the mysterious assassination of the German chancellor. Elsewhere, priest Steve Lorenzo quests for a device of biblical proportions, which may prove instrumental in the current crisis. At times, Lee manages to whip rich atmosphere from her European backdrop, but her blunted prose rarely cuts through long-winded exposition, and her characters largely adhere to cultural stereotypes. The "elite" agents don't investigate as much as stumble upon ready-made revelations, and the villain is revealed so early that the lengthy investigation feels redundant. Tactical action provides some unexpected thrills toward the climax, but the journey there is a suspense-free slog, broken up by uninspired romance. Series fans will undoubtedly be interested, but new readers will find little to hold their attention. (May)
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In the warehouse where Office 119 hid itself, Lawton Caine stood in a walkway between cubicles, absentmindedly juggling a round football between his feet as he watched a bank of television monitors on the wall. He wasn't much of a footballer, having grown up in the United States, where football was an entirely different sport and what he now practiced was called soccer, but he had decided to adopt the European name for the sport. It was, he realized, symbolic of a deeper change within him. He no longer thought of himself as a former FBI agent who had disappeared into the rabbithole world of Office 119. He was no longer an American living in Rome. This was home now, and learning to appreciate football as it was played in Europe was a way of connecting himself to this new stage of his life.
Nearby sat his colleague Margarite Renault, formerly of the French SÃ»reté. She, too, had left an old life behind, although the change had not been as radical for her. She was still on her native continent, if not in her native Paris. But she seemed even more uncomfortable than he felt, for it was the rioting in her native city and the burning of its historic mosquethat dominated the news broadcasts.
They were waiting for a speech by the president of the European Union, Jules Soult. Except for light from the bank of monitors, the offices were dark. The other agents were either gone for the day or off on missions somewhere. Even El Jefe, the chief, had bailed, remarking that he had a dinner date that could not be postponed.
Margarite and Lawton had joked about whether a woman was involved, but neither believed it. Their existence in and service to this ultrasecret UN organization required them to be invisible to the world and dead to everyone in their past lives. Relationships would not only complicate their mission, relationships could put all their lives in jeopardy.
"You know," Lawton remarked to Margarite, trying vainly to master a step-over while he watched the images of the burning mosque, "there's something missing here."
She looked at him. "What would that be, apart from your appalling balance?"
He smirked. "Give me a break, Margarite. I'm still learning. This wasn't my game before." "That's more than apparent," she said, her face deadpan for a long moment before she finally smiled. "But you weren't talking about your footballing skills. So what's missing, mon ami?"
"Where are the pictures of young men in handcuffs, being led away by the gendarmes?"
She nodded, her eyes scanning the broadcasts from all over Europe plus the international news networks. "What do you mean?"
"Surely you don't think the Paris police aren't making any arrests. In every riot there are three kinds of pictures: buildings and cars burning, the rioters and the police making arrests. They're showing the mosque burning. They're showing the blood-stained and charred bodies of Muslims being taken into ambulances. They're showing the French youth rioting. But no arrests."
She nodded. "The commentators are calling these riots an intifada, Lawton. The Muslims are starting them. The French are only defending themselves. Perhaps the police see no reason to make arrests."
He looked at her. "No reason?" "Oui," she said. "It is!how do you call it in English when it is okay for hunters to shoot rabbits?"
"Open season." He frowned, scanning the endlessly playing views of violence. "You're saying the French government is going to stand by while people kill Muslims?"
Margarite shrugged. "Perhaps it is time for that. Why should French citizens stand by while Muslims take to the streets and burn buildings? Is there any proof that the Muslims did not start the fire at the Paris mosque?"
Lawton's gaze was intent. "What are you saying?" "You do understand that one of the primary objections to the EU Constitution was that the EU might accept Turkey as a member, yes? That would have permitted unrestricted travel to Arabs coming in by way of Turkey. Surely you know the anger we Europeans feel toward Spain for accepting so many immigrants from Morocco, because once they are in Spain, they can fan out through the entire Union."
"How do you feel about that?"
Margarite shrugged that irritating Gallic shrug that seemed to say she was above it all, when she wasn't above anything at all. "It would be dangerous to allow any more Muslims into Europe. I agree with that. We had enough of terrorism with the Red Brigade and Black September. If we are xenophobic, then perhaps there is good reason for it."
Lawton felt startled. There was an undercurrent in her words that he hadn't expected. "What exactly are you saying?"
"I am saying that we would not be having these problems if we hadn't allowed so much immigration from countries that do not share our cultural and moral viewpoints. How can there not be problems when there is such a divide, and the Muslims make every effort not to cross it? How can there not be a divide when we have London, Madrid, Black Christmas and Prague to show us that we are allowing dangerous people to live among us?"
"They're not all dangerous."
"Of course not. But enough of them are, and how are we supposed to know who is who?" She pointed to one of the screens, where young Muslim men were throwing rocks at the Paris police. "Do you think words or naive feelings can stop this? The Muslims come here to work and make money, and then they refuse to accept our way of life. They create tensions. Then some among them go out and kill others. Why do they do that, Lawton?"
He opened his mouth to reply, but swallowed the words when he realized that he couldn't answer her question.
"We are infidels to them," Margarite continued. "As far as they are concerned, we are not human."
"I'm sure that's not what the Qur'an teaches."
She shook her head. "The Bible teaches many things that we do not heed. Why should Muslims be any different? My country is secular. We long ago threw off the yoke of the Catholic Church. Yes, there are still Catholics in France, still priests and churches, but most of us have moved beyond that. And one thing I know for certain. All of us believe that government should be secular. But the Muslims do not share this view. They do not like our secular society."
"So you tell them they can't wear veils to school? You make them violate shari'a?"
Again she shrugged. "Live like us, or go somewhere else. That law also limited the size of a cross a Christian may wear to school. It was not discriminatory."
"You don't think so?"
"No, I do not."
Lawton gave up and returned his attention to the ball at his feet. He could see Margarite's point of view, though he didn't agree. But he knew he wasn't going to change her mind, and their mission in Office 119 was difficult enough without manufacturing rifts between agents.
Margarite sighed at the silence and looked to the television. "Despite what I think about all this, I can see that this event will be used. And I fear how President Soult will use it."
"That mosque was built with funds donated by the French government in gratitude for the service of Algerian Muslim soldiers in the First World War. When the Nazis took Paris, the mosque hid over two hundred Jews from them in its basement. Now they've burned it down. Soult will use that crime to justify his ambitions."
"Don't you agree with his plans for a more united Europe?" Lawton asked. "He seems to say a lot of the same things I hear you saying."
A long silence passed between them. Then Margarite said, "I can agree with his goals and disagree with his methods, Lawton. I know what he did in the army, in Chad. He is ruthless, and he will not shrink from violence. A lot of innocent Europeans will get caught in the crossfire."
"Including a lot of innocent European Muslims," Lawton said, hearing the edge in his voice, no matter how he tried to curb it. "Many of them have lived here for generations. They are Europeans, too, Margarite."
"A nice sentiment," she said. "But a bit naive, my friend. Muslims are a quarter of the French population. Many people see them as fifth column agents for a Moorish invasion. We remember our past, Lawton. Never again will we surrender one hundred virgins a year as tribute."
"Your memories are too long," Lawton said.
"Perhaps," Margarite replied. "But the Muslims also remember. They remember the Crusades and the attack by the Mongols. We are not like you Americans, who seem to think that history began the day you were born. The attacks of 9/11 surprised you only because you persistently forgot all that had come before. We do not forget, so we are not surprised by what is happening now. We have been fighting Muslims for centuries. We cannot simply wish that conflict away."
"You're saying there will be war."
"Perhaps," she said. "Perhaps there is no other way." Lawton shook his head and drove his instep into the ball, releasing his frustration in the thud of its impact on the wall, then softened his foot as the ball rebounded so that he could settle it gently at his toe. "There must be another way, Margarite. We can't meet force with force forever. If everyone takes an eye for an eye, the entire world goes blind."
"Keep your hips forward as you strike the ball," she replied. "You will get more accuracy and power. We can only do so much, mon ami. The key is to do it well."