Format: Hardcover, 320pp.
Pub. Date: September 2001
Edition Desc: 1 ED
Reviewed by Lynne d. Johnson
Blowback is a term that was first used by the CIA in a report on the 1953 operation to overthrow the government of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran. The term is actually a metaphor for the unintended consequences of US covert operations abroad. In recent years, covert US operations that were kept from the American public helped to create the terrorist actions of Osama Bin Laden. Bin Laden was trained by the CIA to lead Afghanistan in a war against the Soviet Union. After America turned its back on the destruction in Afghanistan, Bin Laden used what the CIA taught him against it.
This is blowback's history and present-day scenario. It is also a concept that Eric James Fullilove uses as the marrow of his latest novel, Blowback, a high-concept thriller, loaded with espionage, conspiracy, deceit, and action. For his first novel, Circle of One, Fullilove tackled the sci-fi genre, and his mastery of speculative fiction continues with his latest offering. That Fullilove is African-American should not matter, but the book is being touted as a Tom Clancyesque work with an African-American twist.
To a certain degree it is understandable why the book would be marketed in this fashion. The read on this is that the marketing pitch is meant to capture cross over appeal. Blowback deserves a crossover readership, although the sharply imagined protagonist might be a little much for the mainstream to chew.
Here we have an African-American author skillfully approaching the mystery/thriller genre with a lead character that is also African-American. Richard Whelan, the national security adviser to the President could easily be played by Denzel Washington or Samuel L. Jackson in a feature-length film. It is just one of those stories that you'd expect to see either of the actor star in. So perhaps the book's premise is not that far fetched. Hasn't Morgan Freeman played the President before? So why couldn't the national security adviser be African-American?
Fullilove's Blowback is a fast-paced read, delivered with twists and turns in plot and a hero who won't stop until he unmasks the truth. Framed for the murder of his white girlfriend, Whelan sets out on a journey that uncovers mounds of dirt contained within the walls of some of government's highest offices. Fullilove weaves this yarn with thick threading, allowing the reader to guess the next step, but of course, our boy Whelan is always a quick pace ahead of us. Part superman, part military expert, Whelan is always left standing on his feet. As the book continues the murders and attempted murders pile up higher and higher, the lies get thicker, and Whelan digs in deeper to find the truth that will not only clear his name, but also halt a nuclear war from taking place. Like the concept of blowback itself, the novel is a winding road of actions continuously spinning out of control. And somehow, everything is interrelated.
What Fullilove does best with Blowback is tell a story. As the action and intensity increase, the reader won't care about the lack of character development in certain areas, or the loose threads left hanging at the end. The reader won't even care that the dialogue is not on par with the story telling itself. What the reader will discover is an adrenaline rush while moving from chapter the chapter, a burning urge to not close the book no matter how late it gets. The reader will care for Whelan, and will want him to kick ass, which of course he does, over and over again. Whether Fullilove is skilled at the art of writing a thriller is still a question left up to debate. But if you want to know whether the book is worth reading, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
The story is brimming with insider government information that can help paint a clearer picture of our present times. And again, there is no doubt that Fullilove knows how to tell a story, the question is whether he's covered all his bases or not.