Review

The Lion's Game

by Nelson DeMille

There's always a handful of authors scrambling to catch the
slipstream of the latest headline, trusting momentum rather than
imagination to carry them to a top-ten finish. Nelson DeMille will
never be one of them. His unparalleled mastery of fiction goes far
beyond page one news, crafting stories that bond with our shared
history and reverberate with each succeeding generation. Without
question, THE LION'S GAME is topical, but the underpinning story
line of foreign terrorists on American soil is merely a springboard
for a spellbinding novel that will stand the test of time.

John Corey, the retired NYPD detective who debuted in PLUM ISLAND,
is featured once again in THE LION'S GAME much to this reader's
delight. I admit it --- I love a wise ass. Despite his irreverence
for authority and rules of procedure, he's accepted a contract as a
special agent with the Anti-Terrorist Task Force, a blend of the
New York police, FBI, CIA and a handful of other law enforcement
groups. Corey's unfettered sarcasm begins rolling immediately;
hilarious one-liners designed to reflect the posturing among the
federal agencies and, in particular, his frictional relationship
with current teammates.

The ATTF was organized to deal with specific situations --- in this
case a mysterious Libyan terrorist, Asad Khalil, who claims to be
defecting to the US. As this eclectic group assembles at the
Kennedy International Airport to take custody of the defector,
events are unfolding on the arriving Flight 175, setting the stage
for the most horrific reign of terrorism to ever occur on American
soil. As the next 48 hours tick rapidly by, Corey, accompanied by
Agent Kate Mayfield, becomes increasingly frustrated by the
seemingly elusive 'lion,' while Khalil secretly and methodically
eliminates his victims one by one.

DeMille's tour de force has always been in splicing a significant
amount of historical fact with fictional thriller to craft such a
seamless story that readers have to remind themselves --- this is
fiction. In THE LION'S GAME he takes us back to April 1986 and the
retaliation bombing of Libya ordered by President Reagan. Through
the eyes of two American pilots we are shown the fragile bravado
mingled with a dispassionate regard for consequences as the bombs
are dispatched on the terrorist compound of Moammar Gadhafi. In
contrast, the voice of a young Libyan boy, Asad Khalil, speaks
emotionally on the fate of the people living tragically too near
this military target, and foreshadows the thirst for revenge that
will bring him to America many years later. DeMille makes it
abundantly clear as we page through the backstory --- retaliation
begets retaliation --- and Muslim extremists have a doctrine of
vengeance and very long memories.

Meanwhile, back at ATTF headquarters, Corey is barely into his
comic warm-up before we realize he's met his match in Agent Kate
Mayfield, his team supervisor and a skilled FBI veteran, who
handles his flippancy with remarkable aplomb. This is a woman with
an attitude and an agenda, and Corey is unaccustomedly flummoxed.
While sorting out the relationship, the terrorism escalates into a
nationwide manhunt and the humor subsides as they begin to realize
the magnitude of the Libyans' vengeance.

Woven within the complexity of characters and suspense, readers
will encounter chilling reminders of the fundamental threat of
terrorism yet remain amused by the unflagging undercurrent of
witticism in the subplot. In the hands of a master storyteller like
DeMille, the duality of thriller and farce are superbly blended
into high impact entertainment with both a surprising and
frightening conclusion.

Reviewed by Ann L. Bruns on January 22, 2011

The Lion's Game
by Nelson DeMille

  • Publication Date: November 1, 2000
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 944 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 0446608262
  • ISBN-13: 9780446608268