A fascinating novel of terrorism written before 9/11

A review of The Zero Hour, by Joseph Finder

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

Imagine a thriller set in New York City. It’s a story about an impending terrorist attack on Wall Street. The cast of characters includes a chameleon-like terrorist-for-hire reminiscent of Frederick Forsyth’s Jackal, a fugitive financier thirsting for revenge against the banker and the system that forced him to flee the U.S., a brilliant American investigator whose life is complicated by a jealous ex-husband and a precocious 8-year-old son, a prominent and wealthy banker with a taste for masochistic sex, and a crusty New York City police lieutenant who knows all the tricks ever tried.

Now imagine this cast of characters acting out their roles a decade and a half ago, five years before 9/11 — when the book was published. Given the tragic turn that history took in September 2001, you might suspect that The Zero Hour would come across as lame. It doesn’t. In the skillful hands of Joseph Finder, for whom this was the third of what by now is a total of ten thrillers about espionage and business, The Zero Hour is compelling. In fact, it’s fascinating to look back across a gap of just 15 years and realize how much our world has changed. Then, New York’s Joint FBI/NYPD Terrorism Task Force was sorting through the disquieting lessons of the first World Trade Center attack and the Oklahoma City bombing.

The Zero Hour tells the tale of a South African-born terrorist best known as Henrik Baumann or “The Prince of Darkness.” We never learn his birth name. Baumann has been sprung from a high-security prison near Cape Town to do a job for hire — unquestionably, the biggest in his long, blood-streaked career and, necessarily, the last. As he moves ahead methodically to complete his assignment, Baumann eventually squares off against FBI Special Agent Sarah Cahill, who has been put in charge of the Joint Terrorism Task Force’s operation to thwart his attack. To reveal more of the story would be cruel.

This is a complexly plotted and highly satisfying novel of suspense. What elevates The Zero Hour out of the pack is the extraordinary technical detail that Finder weaves into the story, revealing a level of understanding of the practical side of his story that only very thorough research could produce.

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Filed under Detective Stories, Mysteries & Thrillers

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