by R.T. Lawton
A few weeks back when I was looking for something new to read, I stumbled across The Empty Quarter (2014), the latest book by David Robbins. Its title intrigued me. I opened the book and scanned the inside. The offered sample read well, so I made my purchase.
The story next moved to Yemen where the reader is introduced to Arif, a Saudi who returned from fighting the Russians in Afghanistan twenty-five years previously. Having returned to his native Saudi Arabia, he found he no longer fit into that society. Didn't help that he married a Saudi princess and became embroiled in conflict with her father, the prince. A short prison term for our likable antagonist soon followed. Then, acting upon the words from the prophet Muhammad from his own troubles centuries before, Arif and his wife fled to Yemen. Now, Arif uses his software programming skills to anonymously harass and embarrass the Saudi government through the internet.
"When disaster threatens, seek refuge in Yemen." ~ The Prophet Muhammad to his followers
after retreating from Mecca.
Tension remains taut throughout the entire book, all of which is leading up to an escape and chase into The Empty Quarter, a vast desert in Yemen controlled by various tribal factions who often set up road blocks on the desert highway and demand bribes for any wishing to pass. Tribal bonds and blood feuds soon affect both the escapers and the pursurers. The escapers are an American low level diplomat (ex-Army Ranger Captain) who wrongly believes that Arif's wife is trying to go back to her father, a slippery Yemen Intelligence Colonel who lives in the world of spies, and Arif's wife who is strangely silent on the entire matter. The pursurers are a desparate Arif, a Yemen family of brothers who owe a death bed vow to assist this Saudi mujahedeen who has lived in their village for many years. A SEAL unit is on standby for extraction and the para rescuers are prepared to assist, but the plans of men often go awry with events beyond their control. It all collides at the ruins of an ancient building just off the desert highway, and it sometimes becomes difficult to tell who the real bad guys are.
The ending was not what I expected. If you don't get a lump in your throat at the conclusion of this book, then you are made of stern granite.
Realizing that Robbins likes to base his characters and story backgrounds on real people, events and existing organizations, I decided to try a third novel, The Assassin's Gallery (2006). This one is set in 1945 with most of the story taking place in the U.S. During the dark of night on New Year's Eve, a swimmer comes ashore from a submarine. She successfully lands on a beach outside a small town in Massachusetts and starts walking up the beach road to go to the house of her American contact. Unfortunately for her, two civilian coast watchers are parked up that road in an old pickup. Now, she must use all her talents as a professional assassin to cover her tracks.
The rest of the book matches wits between the alleged assassin and the professor. As the story progresses, the calendar keeps moving closer to April 12, 1945, the actual date of Franklin D. Roosevelt's death at the Little White House in Georgia. If you think you know the ending, you should consider two facts to go with this tale of fiction. One, shortly after Roosevelt's death, Josef Stalin sent a telegram to the U.S. State Department requesting that an autopsy be performed to determine if Roosevelt had been poisoned. And second, no chemist's report concerning what may or may not have been in Roosevelt's last meal is available even though the Secret Service ordered a test on the contents of that meal.
Ah, happy reading.