John Corey faces off with another feline villain in The Panther

51W7RM9FkGL._SL500_AA300_PIaudible,BottomRight,13,73_AA300_I often got the sense while listening to The Panther (by Nelson DeMille, Hachette Audio, 2012, read by Scott Brick), that the novel sounds like one long standup routine by the main character, John Corey. That’s not altogether bad for at least a couple of reasons. First, Corey is funny (unlike some real standup comics). As listeners of previous John Corey books know, he is smart, irreverent, and politically incorrect. Much of his humor comes at the expense of women, foreigners (especially Middle Eastern Arabs and Muslims), his superiors (whoever they are exactly–I’m never quite sure) and just about anyone else who pisses him off. Second, Scott Brick once again does the narration, and his timing, attitude, inflection and everything else that makes for an exemplary reading are on full display here. Brick, it seems to me, is at the very top of his game and John Corey is the perfect vehicle for showcasing his virtuosity. I don’t know if Mr. Brick is a wisecracking, puerile, and sarcastic, yet endearing, pain in the ass in real life. Probably not. But he’s a perfect John Corey. Brick is so good, in fact, that he actually makes DeMille’s Acknowledgments section sound interesting, although DeMille deserves some of the credit here for providing something more than just a list of names. But Brick has the kind of talent that would make his reading of a telephone book sound interesting. Let me see: do I need to explain what a telephone book is?

It’s a good thing Brick’s reading is so entertaining because The Panther isn’t all that satisfying as a novel. It may be a matter of proportion or maybe it’s the plotting. All I can say, without giving too much of the plot away, is that the payoff or climax doesn’t have a lot of impact. Basically, DeMille mailed it in. And because the middle takes a lot of time building up to the climax, that letdown was even more disappointing, like an underachieving punchline after an elaborate joke setup.

That setup is as follows: various antiterrorist authorities of the United States have determined that they want to capture (read “assassinate”) the Panther, who is actually an American citizen who has bought into the radical Islam of Al Qaeda big-time. The Panther, whose real name is Bulus ibn al-Darwish (pay attention, because I won’t be using his real name again) and who was one of those responsible for the attack on the USS Cole and who is still up to his evil ways in Yemen–murdering terrorists and such (why anyone who isn’t an Al Qaeda sympathizer would decide that Yemen might make a nice tourist destination is beyond me). But the Panther’s not complaining; if the infidels want to travel to him to make themselves available for slaughter, he’s all too happy to oblige.

The plan to apprehend that the Panther involves using Corey and his wife, Kate Mayfield, (but mainly Corey) as bait. The thinking is that the Panther and his Al Qaeda comrades want to avenge Corey’s killing of the Lion, another Middle Eastern baddie who figured prominently in two earlier John Corey books by DeMille: The Lions Game, which was superb and The Lion, which wasn’t. (See the Audiobook Junkie review here.) So, there seems to be a sort of a fatwa aimed at Corey and by displaying him in Yemen he will be such an irresistible target that the Panther will make his way to Corey faster than the Road Runner can cover cartoonish Western terrain. Okay I’m mixing my species here. But you get the idea. The problem is that the Panther doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to pounce. Or even stalk. He does set up a roadside ambush not too long after John and Kate arrive in Yemen (and it takes a while in narrative terms before that even happens), but a couple of Predator drones take care of that without too much trouble. Then we get lots of Corey and Kate and other military and CIA/FBI types hanging around hotels and Bedouin camps and driving around a lot. This allows plenty of time for the famous Corey humor to get a full airing, but it really doesn’t advance the story.

I’m trying to think of other major plot points. Hmmm. At the moment I can’t think of any.

SPOILER ALERT!!!

As you might imagine, we’re heading towards a showdown between Corey and the Panther. When it happens, it turns out to be a remarkably perfunctory affair. They basically get into a knife fight (Yes! Another knife fight!) using jambias, 800px-Jambiyathose curved blades that Yemen men carry. Unlike the complicated choreography that resembled something out of The Pirates of Penzance in The Lion, this one is mercifully quick. Corey slices the Panther’s throat, dusts off his hands and he and Kate head back to the good old U. S. of A.

But what I haven’t talked about is a subplot involving a CIA guy named Chet Morgan and another intelligence agency-type named Buckminster Harris. This subplot appears to involve a conspiracy among the agencies to eliminate Corey and his wife as part of the Panther destruction operation. It seems the CIA is unhappy with Kate, especially, for killing one of their agents in an earlier John Corey book. I can’t remember which one. But is it really that important? The point is, the Company fails in this attempt, but a guy like John Corey isn’t about to let it go. So, I’m thinking we can anticipate who Corey’s adversaries will be in the next book.

A final note. DeMille has a character named Paul Brenner, who is one of the good guys in the novel. He is a former military type who befriends Corey in Yemen and he’s a sympathetic character. But every time I heard Scott Brick say his full name, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Paul Bremer, the guy who was the Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq under George Bush and who basically fucked up the place even worse than we did invading it, if that was even possible. Of course, authors have the right to name their characters however they see fit. I just found this particular act of nomenclature a distraction. But, then, I am easily distracted. And, I guess, easily amused, which is why I will almost certainly listen to the next John Corey book with as much attention as I can muster.

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