Author Nelson DeMille says we need a Churchillian leader to rally the West in the fight against global terrorism.
President Barack Obama hardly qualifies, says DeMille, the best-selling author behind “The General’s Daughter,” “The Gold Coast” and the new terrorism thriller “The Panther.”
“It all comes from the top, from a Commander-in-Chief on down. The boss sets the tone,” DeMille tells Big Hollywood, directly referring to Obama.
He points to Obama administration officials struggling to rename the War on Terror, the legal loopholes soldiers face when battling the enemy and the recent "fiasco" in Benghazi in which four Americans were killed.
Those things "send a message,” he says.
“The Panther,” which hit bookstore shelves yesterday, finds DeMille revisiting terrorism expert and wiseacre extraordinaire John Corey. DeMille's go-to protagonist, featured in five prior novels, is shipped to Yemen along with his blushing bride Kate to capture The Panther, an American-born terrorist responsible for a series of gruesome killings.
DeMille set “The Panther” primarily in Yemen to let readers learn things about an ostensible U.S. ally they won’t hear on the evening news.
“They’re not really helping [the U.S.] ... some of the Al Qaeda guys arrested for the Cole bombing miraculously escaped from jail. We’re fighting with one hand behind our back, and we’re not even watching our back,” he says.
In "The Panther," DeMille describes Yemen as a failed state where no one is safe and few can be trusted. He considered traveling to the country to complete his research, but his sources convinced him the dangers he might face weren't worth it.
“You could almost make a case for isolation, neo-isolation,” he adds. “Corey says this a lot of the time - whack who you have to whack once in a while, and no more troops on the ground.”
Writing about terrorism for an extended period has given DeMille a database of experts to call upon when researching a novel like “The Panther.” He routinely questions people from the joint anti-terrorism task force for the inner workings of their jobs. He spoke to two specialists who investigated the aftermath of the U.S.S. Cole bombing, for example, a real tragedy that plays a role in “The Panther.”
"The Panther" features several lawyer characters in the midst of the action, mirroring how he sees America fighting Islamic terrorists.
“If you were writing a World War II thriller, you wouldn’t have an attorney to tell you what to do,” he says. “That’s part of the problem.”
Read a few DeMille thrillers and you might imagine the author cozying up to conservative crowds. He isn’t politically correct – nor is John Corey – and he has a weakness for alpha male heroes. The Long Island resident says he avoids overt partisanship in his prose.
“My books are not down the middle, they tilt right. People do notice, but it’s not become an issue,” he says. “I try to balance a little bit, but I get frustrated with the balancing act.”
DeMille defends the powers that be in the left-leaning literary world for placing profits above ideology.
“They’ll publish Bill O’Reilly in a heartbeat if they can make a buck on it," he says. "They truly are liberals in the true sense of the word."
He adds his publishers "wince" a little over his material, but they never ask him to change his stories or characters.
“The Panther,” like previous John Corey novels, provide painstaking details about the political rules regarding the war on terror, from the weapons used in battle to the cultural differences between our heroes and the terrorists.
"I've got to get it all right, the procedural parts, the technical parts … you’re creating this whole world, and it’s agonizing. But when it’s done you look at it with some pride,” says DeMille, who writes his stories out in longhand first.
“I enjoy reading my chapters when they’re done. I forget the agony right away," he says.
John Corey can be pretty cynical about his work. DeMille's stories highlight the chronic double talk, the facts not told to the men and women who risk their lives to keep Americans safe and other maddeningly elements of the modern intelligence game. The author still makes it a point to balance that skeptical world view with a heaping helping of patriotism.
“I want these guys to do their jobs. They’re hamstrung by the politicians to some extent. They’re always looking over their shoulders,” he says. “They’re concerned about maybe not having the right kind of leadership and support … they don’t feel they’re fighting a full-fledged War on Terror.”