Presidential Thriller: “Inside Threat”

Is President Kline in Matthew Quirk’s new conspiracy thriller the target of an insidious plot by government insiders to overthrow him, or is he himself planning some sort of coup that will make him a virtual dictator? Can Eric Hill, a CIA agent demoted to desk duty for reasons that emerge way too late in the book save the country and possibly the president?   That is, if he needs to be saved. . .

These are the questions driving Inside Threat, a book which will likely remind you of movies like Olympus Has Fallen, White House Down, and Salt. Quirk’s debut thriller Night Agent was a recent Netflix hit and this book feels like it’s been written to be turned into another limited TV series. Descriptions of people and places are minimal, except when it comes to the fascinating mountain fortress the president is hustled off to when the White House is seemingly breached.

Based on a real government site, that massive retreat is meant to be impregnable, with gigantic blast doors, man-made caverns, buildings inside those caverns that rest on grids of gigantic springs, a reservoir and power station, multiple tunnels and a sophisticated ventilation system. According to a White House website, “In addition to the basic life support requirements of power, water, and air, the underground metropolis also contains a medical and dental clinic, fire department, post office, dining facility, snack bar, dormitories, chapel, barbershop, fitness center, bowling alley, and even a Starbucks.”

In an author’s note, Quirk notes that he’s simplified the layout, hoping that the maze-like interior doesn’t make it hard for readers to find their bearings.  He didn’t quite succeed and you’re likely to keep consulting a map of this redoubt way too often, which breaks the flow. It becomes a chore over time to track which character is where, and that’s a shame because the book has an exciting premise.

Careful copy editing would have spared readers annoying repetition of details about the “vault” and the forest of springs under each building, words like “perpendicularly,” and awkward lines like “She seemed to be restraining an agitated energy” and “A leaden sickness grew in the president’s belly.”  More importantly, the action sequences could have been made much less confusing, especially since there are so any of them.

Quirk’s president and CIA agent have both read The Man Who Was Thursday, a 1908 conspiracy thriller by G.K. Chesterton, and you might find yourself tempted to put this book aside to read that one when the action drags on. 

While Quirk is no Robert Harris or Joseph Kanon, Inside Threat does makes for passable summer reading.  And the next time you see Secret Service agents protecting anyone, they could bring to mind Quick’s hero describing the job: “You go behind the curtain.  You see the mismatch between the public and private faces.  You keep your mouth shut.  It’s not always pretty.”

Lev Raphael has reviewed mysteries and thrillers for The Detroit Free Press and ten of his own twenty-seven books make up the Nick Hoffman series of crime novels.