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The Siege

Review

The Siege

If you have read Stephen White’s entire body of work, then
you will wonder, upon finishing his latest book, if he has any new
worlds left to conquer. THE SIEGE, either by happenstance or
design, is his response to requests from readers for a novel that
focuses on Sam Purdy. Purdy is friend and foible to Dr. Alan
Gregory, who is White’s mainstay, go-to character, a Boulder
police detective who provides when necessary the enforcement heft
that keeps Gregory credible. Gregory is a psychologist and not
expected to be a tough guy; he can, however, have friends who meet
that description, and Purdy most certainly does. He also has
remarkable powers of observation and deduction, which are on
display here. But what makes THE SIEGE stand out is that, for all
intents and purposes, this is White’s espionage novel, and he
masters that genre just as handily as he has mastered everything
else he has touched thus far.

THE SIEGE is set far outside of White’s familiar comfort
zone of Boulder, Colorado, almost entirely taking place within a
few claustrophobic blocks of the campus of Yale University. I love
the setup that gets Purdy, the fish, out of his familiar pond and
onto the dry shores of the Ivy League university, and I won’t
spoil it for you. Suffice to say that he responds to a request for
assistance to find a young woman --- a student at Yale --- who has
apparently gone missing. At the same time, her mother receives a
cryptic and disturbing letter. Purdy, who is on suspension from the
Boulder Police Department, has no standing as a law enforcement
officer, and even less faith in his ability to help. Yet he does
so, in part because it is simply the right thing for him to do.
When he arrives in New Haven, Connecticut, on a Friday in April, he
has no idea what is about to occur.

The young lady he is seeking, as well as an unknown number of
other students, are being held hostage in the Book and Snake Tomb,
an impervious building on the Yale campus, by captors who
demonstrate, dramatically and repeatedly, that they will stop at
nothing to achieve their goals. Purdy is at a loss. Given that he
has no standing, even unofficially, he is able to do little but
observe and calculate. That actually turns out to be quite
important when his continuing presence on the periphery of the
action attracts the attention of (the ingeniously named)
Christopher Poe, a lone wolf FBI agent who heads up a small but
important task force charged with investigating possible terrorist
threats. Poe, a survivor of the Oklahoma City bombings, has a
number of post-traumatic issues, known only to a few, one of whom
is CIA analyst Deirdre Drake, with whom Poe is carrying on a
“same time, next year” type of affair.

Drake is in the middle of possibly ending the relationship with
Poe when events in New Haven take an explosive turn, bringing the
attention of the world to Yale’s campus. Poe immediately
travels to Yale, where, like Purdy, he observes things from the
periphery while using Drake’s contacts as a way of acquiring
what little information anyone has as to what is occurring and why
the mysterious, seemingly omnipresent captors are doing what they
are doing, and what they want. As Purdy uneasily --- and at first,
unwillingly --- joins forces with Poe, the two men slowly discover
they have separate pieces of the puzzle, ones that will not solve
the puzzle but that may have the power to ultimately end it.

Meanwhile, the hostages must rely on the skills of New Haven
Police Sergeant Christine Carmody, the primary hostage negotiator,
whose spot-on instincts and innate talents are hamstrung as much by
her superiors as by the diabolical terrorists who are silent,
deadly and enigmatic. As the final moments of the crisis are played
out in two unrelated locales, Purdy and Poe form an unexpected and
inadvertent partnership with Carmody, one that neither team is even
aware of, as things are brought to a final and frightening
resolution.

Stephen White continues to be amazing. He is among the best of
our contemporary authors laboring in any genre, combining plot,
characterization, and excellent, solid storytelling to make each of
his works not so much a novel as an event. In his latest effort, he
includes a detailed map of the environs where most of the story
takes place as a way of helping those of us who were neither gods
nor men at Yale navigate effectively through the narration. Insert
Alan Gregory for a believable cameo, and THE SIEGE includes
everything one could possibly want, whether you agree, disagree or
sympathize with the general and diverse worldview of the
characters.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011

The Siege
by Stephen White

  • Publication Date: August 3, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Signet
  • ISBN-10: 0451228480
  • ISBN-13: 9780451228482