Wes Vernon
Book review: 'Trust But Verify,' by Karna Small Bodman
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By Wes Vernon
June 22, 2018

As acknowledged by most of the non-communist world, Ronald Reagan did civilization a monumental favor by "bringing down the Soviet Union without firing a shot." The fact that destroying the "evil empire" did not "end communism," which still spreads its influence largely unabated, or that the Soviet Union (Russia) may not have been crushed as thoroughly as it might have been, is, for the time being, a matter for another day. The truth is that in the post-Soviet world, today's Russia is no longer a "super power" and is relatively weak, which for the time being bodes well (or so we hope).

The fallout

Alas, beyond its rule by an ex-KGB agent – beyond that unfortunate leadership – is that Russia in its shrunken (but arguably mischievous) condition has spawned, or not discouraged, bad actors more than willing to rip off nations and private citizens by engaging in "free-lance" violence. To no one's surprise, that has led to harrowing counter-actions by legal and government forces in the U.S.

Which takes us to...

Karna Small Bodman served in the Reagan White House as deputy press secretary and senior director and spokesman for the National Security Council, ultimately as the highest- ranking woman on the White House staff. From those vantage points, she saw the Gipper in action. Now as an author, she gives us a fictional preview of just how forces within the long defeated nation of Russia may someday attempt to fight back on American soil. This she accomplishes in a fast-paced thriller, Trust But Verify.

Opening scene

The book opens in some future year as one Samantha Reid, director of the White House Office of Homeland Security, is invited by an on again/off-again boyfriend to attend a charity ball in Naples, Florida. She takes the quick flight south as she and her colleagues at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are in the early stages of a probe, as tipped off by Intel, that a new deluge of arms has been delivered to militant groups by what Ms. Reid and her national security advisor have reason to suspect are Russian sellers. Not corrupt government officials – "though there are plenty of those." Samantha Reid has been tracking a group of "oligarchs."

During the Florida event, that peaceful ordinary charity in a peaceful wealthy community becomes the first scene of violence in Trust But Verify. It started with a fire in the kitchen which sets off the explosion of a deliberately placed explosive device. Fortunately, the crowd is quickly herded to safety. But the close call leads to analysis by which FBI officials tell Samantha that, by the process of elimination, she was the likely target of the explosion. That is terrifying. She had somewhat reluctantly accepted an invitation to leave her up-to-her-ears work at the White House to fly miles away to take in a charity in no way related to any of her official duties, and yet someone with violent intent saw that as an opportunity to try to eliminate her. Some suspicion then turns to a waiter who was hired at the last minute for the charity and who disappeared by the time of the on-the-spot effort to determine the perpetrator of the explosion. When Samantha is shown a picture of someone for whom authorities had been keeping a lookout, she identified him as the waiter in question.

From here, back to Washington

Already mortified that whoever was targeting her had gone to the trouble to go miles from her usual Washington settings to go after her, Samantha returns to D.C. to find that a man resembling the "waiter" is peering through the front window of a restaurant there as she's accompanied by a friend (and later) the second leading character in he novel, FBI agent Brett Keating, who assumes the responsibility of protecting Samantha 24/7 from what is obviously a threat to her safety, if not her life. The "G-man" seeks and receives the go-ahead from his superiors to take on the responsibility. That such protection is justified is born out by attempts to hit Samantha with a truck and then shoot through her home window.

The "bad guys" pulling the strings

The "waiter (no surprise) is part of a group of Russian mobsters who, with backup from the Russian mafia, have big plans to wipe out an entire group of the world's bankers and other prominent money people who plan to meet at a well-known resort in the western U.S. As it happens, Samantha has accepted an invitation to speak to that group at the gathering. Smelling trouble (a part of any FBI agent's job), agent Keating plans to be there as part of his responsibility to protect Ms. Reid. Author Bodman takes us through the inside dialogue – from the plotting by the Russian gangsters to the work of Samantha and her contacts, including at the White House and with agent Keating, to the role of others in the harrowing drama.

The "why" of it all

The gangsters, in one their dialogues among themselves, outline the point of the evil-plotted exercise. "What's the point?", one of them wonders. Explanation: Knock off the huge gathering of the world's key money managers from the globe's major financial institutions and the institutions "would take a massive hit that crashes the market and lets us make money" in the millions, more than enough to provide the path to lifelong easy street.

The chase

We, in a mere review, sign off at this point, having skipped over the thriller's many scenes of suspense, violence, and attempts at (or planning for) murder and mass murder, as the FBI's Keating goes at an almost impossible one-man pace 'round the clock trying to head off one murderous attempt after another on the part of the Russians to bring down the money icons, either through a convenient "accident" atop a gondola or whatever it takes to pull off the planned disaster. You will have to read the book to see not only how it all ends up, but how the many vital parts of the seemingly never ending race against well-laid villainous plans of members of the Russian mafia add to the intense effort in the competing monumental life-and-death outcome in which the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

Looking ahead to the read

Trust But Verify is a certified page-turner...Heavy on dialogue, short but thrilling chapters, and no sparing the vivid descriptions of surroundings. That makes the book more or less "a movie in print," a quick read, and unless I miss my guess, a prime candidate for a movie contract.

© Wes Vernon

 

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