Author and ex-Navy Seal Jack Carr’s latest action novel, “The Devil’s Hand,” boasts something for everyone — that is, something for everyone who loves books filled with violence, war, gore, and the thirst for revenge. But this very authoritative and authentic-sounding novel is about much more than the taste for blood. It’s also a history of America’s quest for global dominance versus the Muslim world’s quest for the international triumph of Sharia law, the destruction of democracy everywhere, and the humiliation and ultimate defeat of America the Devil.
“The Devil’s Hand” represents a rather strange combination of genres. It’s partly historical fiction and partly a vaguely alternative-world narrative featuring the U.S. of the present day, with a president in 2021 who is a totally fictional character. This president is named Alec Christensen. The very beginning of the story, however, involves a quick episode involving Muslim extremists in the process of preparing the infamous 9/11 attack on America. Then we meet Christensen, the man who will be president. He is dining with his father at a restaurant very near the Twin Towers while his fiancee is dining in the target building. The young man sees the planes and the attack, and he tries bravely and desperately to save the love of his life, but his attempt is futile.
Christensen, however, is not the main character. That distinction belongs to one James Reece, ex-Seal, ex-spy, and master of all things military, political, and grossly violent. Reece, like Christensen (now the president), is out for revenge. While the president’s targets are the 9/11 perpetrators, Reece wants to find and kill the traitor who was responsible for the murders of his wife, child, and best friend. Aware of Reece’s reputation, the president sets up an ultra-secret meeting with the warrior and sends him on a mission to rid the world of those murderers. All these conditions make for a foundation of an intriguing and suspenseful plot, but in this long and very complicated novel, the two characters’ searches for revenge serve as a side dish rather than the main course.
The primary plot, in fact, involves a deadly conspiracy cooked up by Iranian political and underground figures, the purpose of which is quite simple: to demolish America. But the plan to do so is complex. Here is a capsulized summary: Iranian operatives have managed to steal a sample of a deadly Russian-developed virus. The virus is known by only a very few human beings until the steal is accomplished. The Iranian extremists will use the formula to destroy The Great Satan. The plan (as conceived by the author, but apparently based on scientific realities) is to manufacture additional doses of the virus, have Iranian and Iranian-American right wing Muslim extremists spray it into the air in a few select cities, and then watch gleefully as the virus kills the residents of those locations. More heinous and fiendishly sly steps follow in order to consummate the plan. As Americans collapse and quickly become mortally ill, a mob rush to already-overburdened hospitals will quickly begin. The American government and scientific community will assume that the virus, like Covid 19, is spread by airborne droplets passed person-to-person. In order to contain the virus, then, the government will be forced to surround the affected and infected area, making escape impossible, and then bomb that city into oblivion, killing all the inhabitants along with the virus, decimating everyone and everything in the city. So the U.S. will be forced into the tragic and ugly position of having to destroy thousands of its own citizens, and the collateral damage will be the inevitable spreading of distrust and violence — virulently.
Reece’s mission now morphs from simply exacting revenge into a race to save tens of thousands of American lives. He must figure out the plot and prove that the virus is not spread by person-to-person contact. The twisty plot is brilliantly conceived and effectively executed. Every plot element is exquisitely described in excruciating and often painful detail: the weapons, the political organizations and machinations, the destructive plans, the mano-a-mano violence, the history of global conflicts, the flaws of government responses to crises, the ugliness of wartime conflict; all are presented with unsparing, often brutal, honesty and detail.
Honesty notwithstanding, however, some profoundly disturbing plot, character, and thematic issues arise (for some of us, anyway), issues that thread their way, at times openly and at other times subtly, throughout the entire novel. Violence and revenge are glorified. The novel virtually begs the reader to enjoy cruelty and suffering, blood and gore. Islam — and Muslims — appear, without meaningful exception, to be rigid exponents of the necessary extermination of all “infidels.” And even on the “good guys'”side, the primary characteristics of Americans and the American government specifically are viewed pretty ferociously. The government is corrupt, deceitful, and guilty of selfish and stupid motivations and offensively careless behaviors. Finally, the political and military effectiveness of a democratic state when pitted against authoritarian regimes is (perhaps all too accurately!) questioned.
The end result is a scary, condemnatory sketch of human nature and particularly our apparently unquenchable thirst for conflict and dominance. It’s all rather brilliantly but depressingly and pessimistically presented. Keeping all those factors in mind, if you read the novel thoughtfully and carefully, you will come to your own conclusions about the validity of both its openly stated and implicitly suggested attitudes.
Review by Jack Kramer. Note: This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.