Missions (a book review)

They’re not impossible…

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

I had to sit with this one for a few days after finishing. The story revels in a wash of ambiguity, leaving the reader to decipher its position on ethics and action in the post 9-11 age and ultimately decide for themselves what to take away from it. Right until then end, that is, when it kinda doesn’t. But I’ll try to limit the spoilers.

Per the synopsis, the book revolves around Doyle O’Gara, who works for a technology firm contracted by the CIA to support global communications surveillance. Having only recently accepted a new position at his firm, he finds himself in the middle of an investigation into a suspected terrorist bombing in Paris. It’s a straightforward plot. Thankfully, Missions goes above your typical cat-and-mouse thriller.

The author, Marc McGuire, is a lawyer who spent much of his career practicing in Europe. While his bio doesn’t go into detail beyond that, it appears that his international experience opened a window for him into this setting. His character, O’Gara, may be an analyst in the U.S., but his quarry is in France, where most of the story takes place. In fact, the book starts out in the immediate aftermath of a bombing in Paris, introducing the reader to French DST investigator Christine Dupont and her team, as they take over the crime scene. They’ll eventually connect with the CIA and O’Gara as the case progresses.

The reader is also introduced to the members of the terrorist cell early on. Much of their part in bombing is told in flashback. It’s here where the storytelling becomes distracted.

The author has several groups of characters to juggle and I felt that he was equally interested in all of them. However, the arc of the story depends on Doyle O’Gara, and there’s simply not enough of him. Of all the groups, the terrorists get the most attention. They are well written, if somewhat stereotypical (you read enough thrillers about the war on terror and some of it starts to run together), and I enjoyed reading those sections the most. While the focus on the cell is important to the author’s vision, it’s not counterbalanced by the person who has the revelations, O’Gara.

Doyle O’Gara is never a fully realized character. The author tries to build him up as the story moves along, but it’s in odd information drops that don’t affect the moment and often feel out of place. A lot of time is also spent with Dupont and her team. But since none of them have the journey O’Gara is supposed to have, I thought that time could have been given over to heightening the drama around O’Gara, which would in turn lend more credence to his choices and impact the power of his realizations. He doesn’t gain the momentum he needs for that ending to really resonate.

Ultimately, I liked Missions. It’s not a traditional action-thriller. It’s a mystery that explores the nature of the system governing the international war on terror. The author takes a risk with his more thoughtful look at such events and how nations react to them. It was a nice change of pace from so many other by-the-numbers thrillers about terrorism. But I think the story is undercut by too many players. A deeper character study of O’Gara would have brought it home.

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