By: Thomas F. Erickson
Published By Durban House
Operation Snowshoe is a rare treat, a suspenseful novel that seems torn from today’s headlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and what led up to them. It’s a fast-paced thrill ride full of intrigue, spying, and rich, complex characterizations that make the participants in the drama that unfolds seem real enough to step off of the page. It’s the story of the Chicago Mafia lawyer (or consigliere, as he’s also known as) Tom Kempner, his wife, Katherine, and how when his wife gets sent a trunk containing diaries and other documents that had belonged to her grandfather, British WWII General Alan Cunningham, their lives get turned upside down. In fact, when their neighbor, the orthopedic surgeon R.A. Anthony Gaylani, snoops around and pilfers one of the documents, and Katherine tries to get her husband to pay attention to the possible connection between this and the current ongoing Arab/Israeli conflict in the Middle East, it costs her her life.
We’ve all heard and read of various wheelings and dealings between the CIA and the Mafia, but never quite like the way author Thomas Erickson deftly portrays them in this excellent dynamic novel. Everyone seems to be spying on everyone else, even while ostensibly cooperating with them, everyone has his own agendas, and it’s difficult to know who are the good guys and the bad guys, because no one is totally innocent nor above breaking the law to achieve their own goals. Erickson unfolds a cloak-and-dagger game that has its roots in the WWII era (and, one could argue, much further back, to the time of the book of Genesis in the Bible), that involves members of the British royal family, Arabic terrorist cells, 9/11, and Israel’s right to exist as an independent state.
Gaylani is the orthopedic surgeon who repaired bullet holes in Kempner’s chest and his shattered leg when Tom got wounded in Vietnam. But, Katherine suspects him of being much more than his surface cover suggest he is – some of the papers of her grandfather allude to another Gaylani, an Arabic one, who collaborated with the Nazis and swore his son would continue their plans. Could it be that their next door neighbor is the son mentioned in her grandfather’s papers, though he says that he’s a Catholic Italian and he’s married to a Jewish woman, Joanne?
Tom invites him over because Gaylani has suggested he’d like to have a wine tasting party, and he’s an expert in wines. Katherine passes out, and dies despite the doctor’s attempts to resuscitate her. Kempner doesn’t like to consider it, but eventually comes to believe his wife had been correct to suspect Gaylani as being part of a terrorist sleeper cell, and that Gaylani, having reason to think Katherine was on to him, deliberately put some sort of drug in her drink and then finished her off by strangling her under the pretense of attempting to revive her.
Being a lawyer for the mob and the confidante and legal counselor for its don, Mr. Gary Barberi, as well as the boyhood friend of the Deputy Director of the CIA, Admiral Eric Weiss, Kempner has assisted both the mob and the CIA before. Barberi is a modern sort of don, who doesn’t want the Chicago Mafia to deal drugs, and he’s got a very business-oriented attitude about increasing his and the mob’s wealth. Kempner comes to realize that maybe Gaylani didn’t act alone in murdering his wife, and though he wants to get revenge on the Arab who pretends to be an Italian, the CIA and the Mafia or both together might also have worked and planned to arrange for Katherine’s untimely demise.
Also, banker heiress and journalist Patricia Zwilling investigates the possibly suspicious death. Her grandfather was a ruthless banker, unconcerned with how his money was made, investing and laundering the Mafia’s ill-gotten gains. His fortune built a mansion on the estate he’d bought with the money he’d made, and though the mansion was burnt to the ground, Patricia still lives in the guesthouse and is trying to now use the wealth her grandfather and father accumulated for the good, distributing much of it to various charities. Her confrontations with Barberi and others are tense, and make for some of the novel’s best scenes, though virtually every page is interesting and if the novel was made into a movie, it would be, IMHO, a blockbuster that would earn millions.
Operation Snowshoe is a complex novel filled with intrigue, and it will have you on the edge of your seat, reading late into the night. How can an individual fight against the combined might of the CIA and the Mafia? What does a yellow Labrador Retriever named Snowshoe have to do with the Arb/Israeli conflict? To what lengths should a country like America, which on the surface supports freedom and equal rights for all, go to protect its sovereignty? These vital questions and many more make up the subject matter the plot of Operation Snowshoe. This is a novel I’d highly recommend to anyone who loves mystery/thrillers, and is interested in the roots of 9/11, the Arab/Israeli conflict, and the current turmoil in the Middle East.