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Sting of the Wasp by Jeff Rovin

Published by St. Martin's Griffin on May 28, 2019

Jeff Rovin is a flake with a questionable sense of reality, but so was Tom Clancy. I try not to hold flakiness against writers who produce good stories, including Clancy, who wrote some very good novels before he succumbed to right wing rabies. I got the strong sense in reading Sting of the Wasp that Rovin wanted to throw red meat to the rabid right while balancing the novel with more moderate characters. There isn’t much balance here, but the real test of a thriller is whether it thrills. As is true of Rovin’s other contributions to the Tom Clancy Op-Center series (zero of which were written by Tom Clancy), Rovin proves himself to be a capable storyteller without offering anything that thriller fans haven’t seen before.

Sting of the Wasp might be seen as prescient in its depiction of a president who is considering a missile strike against Iran. Apparently, John Bolton is dictating policy in the fictional White House, even if the fictional president is considerably more focused than Donald Trump. Only January Dow, in charge of intelligence at the State Department, acts as a voice of reason, and she is far from being a reasonable person.

The missile strike is contemplated as a response to a chemical attack at a military tourist center that begins the novel. The attack is carried out by Ahmed Salehi. Salehi was on the Center’s radar, but Salehi’s strike was neither anticipated nor preempted. That costs Chase Williams his job and puts an end to the Ops-Center. But there wouldn’t be a novel if Chase retired, so he’s secretly placed in charge of capturing or killing Salehi.

Chase’s new team consists of three people. The team was created to be mobile and agile, with the ability to respond to threats in “real time.” Its mode of operation is to charge into battle without a plan, which is touted as the new model for warfare. Unfortunately, the bad guys seem capable of planning, so charging after them willy-nilly might not be the most intelligent approach to military intelligence.

Chase’s “Black Wasp” team include a JAG professor called Major Breen, who supposedly represents the “conscience” of the team because he believes in due process rather than assassination; a Marine sharpshooter named Rivet, who believes in shooting people; and a psychopath named Grace who is a combat instructor with special operations command. “Black Wasp” stands for Black-ops Wartime Accelerated Strike Placement, an awkward name created to justify a cool acronym. Black Wasp is “liberated from the burden of morality” — morality being a quaint notion that right wingers quickly abandon when its strictures prove to be inconvenient.

The characters are stereotypes, liberated from the burden of complex thought and actual personalities. They see the enemy as “savages” while the Major with the alleged conscience feels no qualms about subjecting them to a bit of “discomfort” with “enhanced interrogation” (e.g., torture). Of course, Americans who torture people are not savages because, well, they’re Americans. One character seems to be upset that Americans are moved by the image of a dead child because the child is a terrorist’s granddaughter and therefore deserved to pay a heavy price for being born. The worst part of reading a novel like this is the realization that people think this way.

I was amused that characters express outrage about the treatment of women by conservative Muslims. It is evil to abuse woman regardless of one’s religious beliefs, but domestic abuse by members of the American military is both evil and rampant. I often see condemnation of violence against women in books that demonize Muslims, but those same books are inevitably silent about abusers in the American military, given that members of the military are regarded as heroic by default. That makes me think people who rail against the inequality of Muslim women in certain countries actually have a problem with Muslims, not with violence against women.

Anyway, Chase and his team chase Salehi to Trinidad and then to Yemen, making some adventurous stops along the way. Rovin always constructs a competent if simplistic plot and writes strong action scenes. He moves the story with good pace and produces entertaining pulp fiction. The novel shakes up the Ops-Center series, which was getting stale, but I’m not sure Black Wasp is any better. Sting of the Wasp balances decent action and competent prose with shallow characterization and a predictable plot.


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