Kane Conlan’s book The Manipulators features a story set in the political hot zone of Calgary. While the subject matter may be topical, it still seems kind of silly to me.
In the story, Josef Brzezinski is a rich political science professor skilled in the deceptive art of war. He forms an underground militant group called the Northern Freedom Brigade (NFB). Under the name of this front, he stirs up trouble in an attempt to pit the provincial and federal governments against each other. The goal: to disrupt the political power structure by attacking Alberta’s energy producing regions (the oilsands) and transportation infrastructure. If he succeeds then Canada will become a state with no regional heads, only one in the prime minister’s office.
Ah, but much like James Bond, Brzezinski has a fatal flaw — attractive women.
If the red flags weren’t popping up before, they sure are now. A rich political science professor? That seems a little too far-fetched for my tastes. Second, the cover really reeks of a cheap story. The image of chess pieces topped with Canada’s House of Commons, America’s Capitol building and one even has a pair of red lips. Now we find out the villain loses all sense in the presence of beautiful women. That’s just too much for me.
Conlan actually does a fine job of plotting out this story with some bona fide understanding of what it takes to make a standard issue potboiler. The threat to the energy industry became a hot topic after 9/11 and the recent oil and gas pipeline bombings in B.C. A terrorist threat from within the population is a real concern. I like that he took these basic starting points and weaved a different take on the problem, seeing where things could go wrong if there was one bad apple in the barrel. Brzezinski is too smart and too rich for his own good, and for the rest of the nation’s good too. Realistic? No, but slightly plausible.
While I wouldn’t say that the dialogue crackled with intensity, the conflict progressed in a way that kept my interest and made me want to keep on going, despite my low expectations. If he could just spend a little bit more time on character development (even coming up with better names than Premier Walt Brine, which sounds a lot like one of our province’s former leaders, plus he maintains some of the same character traits), crafting some realistic dialogue, rounding out the story and paying more attention to the final package before it goes to press, it would be better. It’s a major problem when the book jacket has the name of one of the major characters misspelled.
Otherwise this was what I would call a great bath book. You can read it for 20 minutes at a time and not have to pay too much attention. Also, if some of the pages get wet it’s not a huge tragedy. Conlan has the potential to become Canada’s John Grisham, but he’s not there yet.
by Kane Conlan