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The Zionist Betrayal was the pivot point of modern history, the axis on which the world shifted. The story is taught to every schoolchild, marked by a moment of silence at noon on the anniversary of the attack. we all know that on that terrible day, renegade elements of the Israeli government struck targets in the United States, and the holy city of Mecca, attempting to blame the actions on radical jihadis and discredit all of Islam. We all know that their plan was discovered, Israel itself overrun, while the forces of Islam spread their beneficence across the globe. And yet...what if all that we know of these attacks was wrong? What if the Zionists were not behind the Zionist Betrayal?
    Prayers for the Assassin
Best-selling novelist Robert Ferrigno burst onto the crime thriller scene with his critically-acclaimed 1990 debut, The Horse Latitudes. With his penchant for rendering truly scary psycho-killer villains, he soon developed a reputation for delivering a combination of what NY Times mystery reviewer Marilyn Stasio termed, "frantic energy" and "macabre fun." But even as he was seemingly elevating (lowering?) the Southern California noir to the level of almost-myth, the journalist in him was, perhaps unrecognized by most, reporting on what he saw in real-life:
My favorite review was the Washington Post's take on Flinch: "Many writers have presented Southern California as a freak show but perhaps none more convincingly than Robert Ferrigno. His lurid cast of crazed killers, zonked-out porn stars, bottom-dwelling journalists, and connoisseurs of aberrant art ('Gas-chamber photos are a splendid investment') boggles the imagination." This is a fine review, but I love the fact that the Post was amazed at my imagination, while I still think of myself as a reporter. Most of the things the reviewer thought were so bizarre were just my slightly tilted version of the people and places that make up daily life in the Golden State.
    -INTERVIEW: Your Wake-Up Call: Read Ferrigno (Q&A by John J. Miller, 8/03/04, National Review)
Now, in his new futuristic thriller, Prayers for the Assassin, he's effectively asking us to consider how far we might go to restore some sense of order to the moral cesspool he's described in the past...and the answer is pretty far.

The story is set in the year 2040, when New York City, Washington, D.C. and Mecca have all been devastated by nuclear warheads, the attacks admitted to by Mossad agents who were trying to drive a wedge between the West and the Islamic world (giving the event the title the Zionist Betrayal), and the resulting chaos having led to the creation of an Islamic States of America, making up most of the Northern and Western states of the old Union. An uneasy truce exists with the Bible Belt states of the South after a long civil war, and the Catholic Church is tolerated, but the federal government is essentially an Islamic republic. Mr. Ferrigno establishes the scene quickly as the novel opens:
The second half of the Super Bowl began right after midday prayers. The fans in Khomeini Stadium had performed their ablutions by rote, awkwardly prostrating themselves, heels splayed, foreheads not even touching the ground.
Throughout the book there's often this unsettling combination of the familiar and the strange, which gives the reader a haunting sense of how dislocating it must be for folks in other cultures to have American influences transposed upon their traditions. While it may not be thoroughly plausible to imagine that America would ever Islamicize, never mind so quickly, Mr. Ferrigno cleverly posits such drivers for the conversion as an actress making her profession of faith as she accepts an Academy Award. In a real world where Madonna almost single-handedly created a Kabbalah craze, it's not so easy to dismiss the power of this scenario in a fictional setting. Grant the author a near-future where rampant crime, moral relativism, and the rest have provoked the puritanical longings that never lurk too far beneath the American surface and an Islamic Awakening isn't beyond the possible.

Against a richly imagined backdrop, Mr. Ferrigno sets the story of Rakkim Epps, a former elite soldier in the American Fedayeen, and Sarah Dougan, a young historian who has uncovered evidence that casts doubt on the official version of the Zionist Betrayal. The two were raised by Redbeard, the head of State Security -- Rakkim an orphan he found on the street; Sarah, the daughter of Redbeard's assassinated brother. When Sarah disappears, Redbeard asks the estranged Rakkim to find her, without revealing why she's gone into hiding. As he searches, Rakkim soon finds himself shadowed by Darwin, an assassin and psychopath, who serves the Wise Old One, a fundamentalist leader who thinks Redbeard and others in the government too moderate. If we know pretty well the formula the action that follows will take, readers will admire the style with which he serves it up.

The real pleasure though lies in the texture of the setting. What separates great fantasy/science fiction from mere formula is a sense that if a character wandered off-stage he would still be in a fully imagined alternate reality. Thus, Tolkien has never been bettered precisely because the Lord of the Rings occurs in only a smallish portion of the world and its ages that he imagined. Here Mr. Ferrigno seems to have thought out what life would be like in the Southern States, though little of the action takes place there and that only in flashback, as well as in other parts of the Islamic States and across the world. Even references to the "history" that precedes the events of the novel suggest that he spent some considerable time thinking through the implications and ramifications and that, if asked, he'd be able to fill in the details. This guarantees that even if the Islamic States of America aren't entirely realistic, they're never surreal. Enjoyment of the novel requires only the slightest suspension of disbelief.

Mr. Ferrigno also avoids depicting the Islamic States as a dystopia. Though there are rising tensions between fundamentalists and moderates, though there is prejudice against non-Muslims, and though America has begun to experience the same sort of economic and cultural retardation that afflicts much of the Muslim world today, the support of those like Redbeard for the new regime is made explicable by contrast to the sorry conditions that preceded the change. At one point, a cop friend of Rakkim's, a Catholic, explains:
You were too young to remember what the country was like before, but let me tell you, it was grim. Drugs and desperate people beating each other's heads in for reasons they couldn't even explain. Man against man, black against white, and God against all -- that was the joke, but I sure never got a laugh out of it. [...] Then the Jews took out New York and D.C., and it made our troubles before seem like one of those tea parties where they serve watercress sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Taught us what hard times really were. Muslims were the only people with a clear plan and a helping hand, and everyone equal in the eyes of Allah. That's what they said, anyway. [...] Besides, your people are big on the punishment part of crime and punishment, and they don't take to blasphemy. I like that. The old government actually paid a man to drop a crucifix into a jar of piss and take a picture of it. Don't give me that look, I'm serious. He got paid money to take the picture, and people lined up around the block to look at it., So, I'm not exactly pining for the good old days....
Think back to the spiritual crisis of confidence we experienced in the 1970s or that much of Europe is plunged into now and a moralistic and cohesive Islamic culture certainly seems preferable. Indeed, as hard as it is to credit this future for America, it's not hard at all to imagine it for an Italy or a France. They'd likely be better places should it happen. Such problems as Mr. Ferrigno attributes to the Islamic States are, as one character says, due to the faithful and not the faith. this makes the book effective in the way that a merely Islamophobic screed would not be and must leave us thoughtful long after its ample thrills are over. In his Acknowledgments, the author cites a line by Simone de Beauvior, in response to the notion that her works "negated the existence of God": "One can abolish water, but one can not abolish thirst." Prayers for the Assassin warns of the trace poisons the over-thirsty may end up drinking down while they quench an undeniable thirst.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Robert Ferrigno (3 books reviewed)
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Robert Ferrigno Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: Crime Pays: Author Robert Ferrigno
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Heart of the Assassin
    -BOOK SITE: Heart of the Assassin (Simon & Schuster)
    -Robert's Blog
    -BOOK SITE: Republic World News: Breaking News for the Islamic States of America
    -ESSAY: Missing Rush Limbaugh: A look ahead (Robert Ferrigno, 4/16/08, National Review)
    -ESSAY: Step 1: Write book; Step 2: Suffer (Robert Ferrigno, April 3, 2005, DC Examiner)
    -INTERVIEW: One nation, under Allah: an interview with Robert Ferrigno: Orrin Judd interviews Robert Ferrigno, author of Prayers for the Assassin, a novel about the near future which posits a world where much of the United States has become an Islamic state (Orrin C. Judd, 3/20/06, Enter Stage Right)
    -PROFILE: The Islamic States of America (Henry Schuster, February 22, 2006, CNN)
    -INTERVIEW: Your Wake-Up Call: Read Ferrigno (Q&A by John J. Miller, 8/03/04, National Review)
    -INTERVIEW: Robert Ferrigno interview (Bob Cornwell, Tangled Web)
    -INTERVIEW: A Conversation With Robert Ferrigno (Interview by Pantheon Staff)
    -INTERVIEW: Local author's latest thriller pits Samaritan against L.A.'s dark side (Adam Woog, 1/21/03, The Seattle Times)
    -PROFILE: Introducing Robert Ferrigno: Richard Shephard investigates the novels of crime writer Robert Ferrigno (Richard Shepard,
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Robert Ferrigno (Eye on Books)
    -INTERVIEW: Robert Ferrigno (Mystery Ink, 10/19/01)
    -INTERVIEW: The Thrill is On: with Robert Ferrigno (J. Kingston Pierce, July 1999, January Magazine)
    -PROFILE: Eastside writer shows he's a player in the twisted world of tales noir (JOHN MARSHALL, June 24, 1999, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER)
    -ESSAY: Ferrigno of Nonsense (Bartholomew's notes on religion)
    -ARCHIVES "robert ferrigno" (Find Articles)
    Assassin's Trilogy: Life and death in the Islamic Republic of America (Joel Schwartz, May 26, 2008, Weekly Standard)
    Just to be clear, folks, it's a novel: There's an emerging sub-genre of Islamotopian fiction, and it's not my fault (MARK STEYN | May 28, 2008, Maclean's)
    -REVIEW: of Prayers for the Assassin by Robert Ferrigno (JANET MASLIN, 2/16/06, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Prayers for the Assassin (Mark Steyn, Maclean's)
    -REVIEW: of Prayers for the Assassin (David J. Montgomery, Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -REVIEW: of Prayers for the Assassin (BRUCE TIERNEY, Book Page)
    -REVIEW: of Prayers for the Assassin (Chris Cronin, American Dissent Radio)
    -REVIEW: of Prayers for the Assassin (Adam Woog, The Seattle Times)
    -REVIEW: of Prayers for the Assassin (David Schraub, The Debate Link)
    -REVIEW: of Prayers for the Assassin (James Flint, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Prayers for the Assassin (John J. Miller, National Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Horse Latitudes by Robert Ferrigno (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Horse Latitudes (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Horse Latitudes (Margaret Carlson, TIME)
    -REVIEW: of The Cheshire Moon by Robert Ferrigno (Michael Anderson, NY Times Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Cheshire Moon (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Dead Man's Dance by Robert Ferrigno (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Dead Man's Dance (Mary A. Kane, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
    -REVIEW: of Dead Silent by Robert Ferrigno (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Heartbreaker by Robert Ferrigno (Scott Veale, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Heartbreaker (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Heartbreaker (Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Flinch by Robert Ferrigno (David J. Montgomery, Mystery Ink)
    -REVIEW: of Flinch (Joe Hartlaub, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of Flinch (Chris Petit, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Scavenger Hunt (J. Kingston Pierce, Seattle Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Scavenger Hunt by Robert Ferrigno (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Scavenger Hunt (J. Kingston Pierce, January Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of Scavenger Hunt (Chris Petit, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Wake-Up by Robert Ferrigno (Bob Cornwell, Tangled Web)
    -REVIEW: of The Wake-Up (Joe Hartlaub, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of The Wake-Up (davidthayer, Collected Miscellany)
    -REVIEW: of The Wake-Up (Carlo Wolff, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Wake-Up (BRUCE TIERNEY, Book Page)
    -REVIEW: of The Wake-Up (KEN WHITE, Las Vegas REVIEW-JOURNAL) -REVIEW: of Heart of the Assassin: Orwell’s Grandchildren (David Forsmark, 9/14/09,
    -REVIEW: of Heart of the Assassin by Robert Ferrigno (Mark Steyn, Macleans)
    -REVIEW: of Heart of the Assassin (Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times)
    -REVIEW: of Heart of the Assassin (Joe Hartlaub, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of Heart of the Assassin (David Forsmark, FrontPage)
    -REVIEW: of Heart of the Assassin (Fionnchú, Blogtrotter)
    -REVIEW: of Heart of the Assassin (David J. Montgomery, Daily Beast)
    -REVIEW: of Heart of the Assassin Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Heart of the Assassin (Jagmohan Singh Khurmi , Islam Watch)

Book-related and General Links:

    -Tech Central Station
    -Ask Imam Online
    -Middle East Research Institute
    -The Islam Page
    -Virtually Islamic: News, Commentary, Information and Speculation about Islam in the Digital Age
    -ESSAY: The Saudi Paradox: Saudi Arabia is in the throes of a crisis, but its elite is bitterly divided on how to escape it. Crown Prince Abdullah leads a camp of liberal reformers seeking rapprochement with the West, while Prince Nayef, the interior minister, sides with an anti-American Wahhabi religious establishment that has much in common with al Qaeda. Abdullah cuts a higher profile abroad -- but at home Nayef casts a longer and darker shadow. (Michael Scott Doran, January/February 2004, Foreign Affairs)
    -Tactics of the Crescent Moon: Militant Muslim Combat Methods
    -ESSAY: The Islamists Have it Wrong (Abdul Hadi Palazzi, Summer 2001, Middle East Quarterly)