'Blink Of An Eye' Starts Year Off With A Bang

A nuclear bomb wipes out a U.S. city — and it's unclear who the real perpetrator is. Though current events — the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Iraq — have overtaken the plot of Blink of An Eye, the political thriller from former Secretary of Defense William Cohen is exciting nonetheless.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

William Cohen's political career included three terms in the Senate and a stint as secretary of defense in the Clinton administration. But Cohen has also made his mark as a novelist. That's a role he's returned to in his new novel, "Blink of an Eye." Though the plot of the novel has been overtaken by current events, with the recent withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, our reviewer Alan Cheuse finds the book nonetheless exciting.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: The story opens with an apparent Iranian attack by water on the last of our ships anchored in Basra. In the midst of an election campaign, sitting President Blake Oxley finds himself under partisan attack for not immediately treating this event as an act of war by Iran. Even as an insidious group of patriotic right-wing Christian zealots who call themselves The Brethren, whose members include legislators, businessmen, some military men, appear to be plotting to force a war. The president's security advisor, Sean Falcone, takes on the responsibility for finding the truth in all this, and the novel piles up detail after detail about just how things work in the inner sanctum of our government.

I read on willingly, if not entirely engrossed. But good thing I did. A little less than halfway through the book, a nuclear bomb explodes off the coast near Savannah and the book accelerates like mad. Savannah flattened. Hundreds of dead in the streets. Entire neighborhoods turned to ash. Who were the perpetrators? How did this happen? Despite some of the more melodramatic elements of the novel surrounding the zealots and now and then some narrative drift, novelist Cohen's book, which gains a lot presumably from the first-hand knowledge of Secretary Cohen, allows you to start off the new year not with a whimper but a bang.

SIEGEL: "Blink of an Eye" is a political thriller from former Secretary of Defense William Cohen. Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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