The Fifth Horseman is a thriller merging 1970s international news and hometown fears in a narrative that still feels contemporary.
Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has devised a plot to trigger a nuclear bomb hidden somewhere in New York City if the Americans don’t get Israel to abandon territories seized from Arabs.
Getting the bomb into New York and getting directions to the White House falls to Kamil and Whalid Dajani and their sister, Laila.
The trio had vowed vengeance for the loss of the family’s West Bank home.
Whalid studied nuclear physics and went to work for the French nuclear program.
Whalid’s political views softened; Kamil’s and Laila’s became harder.
Laila, disguised, delivers the terrorists’ threat.
Gaddafi gives the U.S. 36 hours to comply. Should the U.S. attempt to evacuate the city, Gaddafi will detonate the bomb immediately.
Americans scrambling to respond to the nuclear threat discover they have few options other than to find the bomb and disarm it without news of the crisis leaking out.
Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre had been news reporters before joining forces to write books. Their first-hand observation of political appointees shows in their depiction of inept bureaucrats trying to solve an immediate problem.
That in itself still renders The Fifth Horseman terrifying.
Having read three Harold Robbins bestsellers, I wasn’t looking forward to reading The Pirate.
The novel lived up to my expectations.
The story is set “today” — the novel came out in ’74—in the Middle East, which is the setting for most of the action outside of bedrooms.
The pirate is Baydr Al Fay, a Jewish baby switched at birth for a dead Arab one and schooled in England and America to use money to make more money.
Baydr is emotionally separated from his California-born wife, seeming to care only about their two sons, whom he rarely sees. Their elder son is soon to be named heir and successor to the Prince Feiyad.
One of Baydr’s daughters by his wife has joined the Fedayeen in rebellion against her father’s preoccupation with making money.
Badyr is a tough guy living by Eastern codes in which women count for nothing; however, my Western mind says rape is rape even if the victims have the personality of a foam egg carton.
The story jerks disjointedly though the sexual adventures of all the major characters and a few of the minor ones, until the novel ends in flames in the Syrian mountains.
The Pirate by Harold Robbins
Simon and Schuster 1974. 408 p.
1974 bestseller #7. My grade: D
To say James A. Michener’s whopping 1965 bestseller The Source is an historical novel both understates and misleads.
Into a narrative about a contemporary archaeological dig at Makor, a man-made mound in Israel, Michener weaves a chronological series of short stories about key people and events in Makor’s history. Through this complex literary device, Michener traces unravels the history of Makor from its earliest human occupation up to 1964.
The Source: A Novel by James A. Michener
New York: Random House, 1965. 909 pages. 1965 bestseller #1. My grade: A
The short stories explore the character of the various peoples who came to Makor—from the Canaanites to the British—with particular focus on the Jews.
Michener makes the characters increasingly complex as centuries pass, giving a sense of the progress of civilization.
Michener connects historical events in Israel and the Middle East with happenings in distant places like Rome and Mexico. He shows, for example, that the Crusades were part of Renaissance colonialism in which Europeans carved out city-states in the Holy Land.
The characters in the excavation narrative form a kind of Greek chorus to comment on and interpret the significance of the history of the Holy Land for the post-World War II world.
As America’s ties to Israel are tested by events in Syria, Iraq and Iran, The Source is worth reading once more.
Orphaned as an infant, Diana Mayo was brought up by a much older brother, who treated her as if she were a boy.
When she reaches adulthood and financial independence, the fearless and foolhardy Diana goes for a month into the North African desert accompanied only by native camel drivers and servants.
She is captured by the eponymous Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan. He rapes her, subdues her, and commands her obedience.
Ahmed brings her back by force.
In her exhaustion, Diana realizes she loves Ahmed for his strength, brutality, and animality. But horrors! Ahmed’s a different race and color.
Meanwhile, Ahmed’s jealousy of his long-time friend Raoul de Saint Hubert makes the Sheik realize he loves Diana.
Raoul tells Diana that Ahmed is not an Arab at all, but half English, half Spanish. The news assures Diana she can live happily with her Sheik. Apparently being raped is OK as long as the rapist is a European.
This is ridiculous stuff, but author Ethel M. Hull keeps the story moving so you don’t realize how absurd it is until you’re read so much of the book that you might as well finish.