“The Hostage” by W.E.B. Griffin
Genre: Thriller: Military / Secret Agent
Rating: 3 Water Towers
“The Hostage” is the second in Griffin’s new “Presidential Agent” series. It is a massive 2 inch thick paperback consisting of 750 pages in the new slightly larger paperback form factor.
The first book in the series “By Order of the President” was the first W.E.B Griffin book I read and it was very exciting and good. “The Hostage”, by comparison, is a somewhat convoluted, leisurely, stroll through a complex character building park. It is clear that “The Hostage” is setting up the story, and the people, for future books. In fact, taking a peek at the new hardcover in this series, “The Hunter”, it indeed appears to start off where “The Hostage” ended.
Readers of “The Hostage” who want to learn about the characters need not read Book 1 “By Order of the President”. “The Hostage” repeats the character information several times over and gives good plot information about the previous book as well. Some editing of that information would have provided a higher percentage of action in Book 2 and would, I think, spur the reader to read Book 1.
Really quickly, the hero of this series is a light skinned Army Major: Carlos Guillermo Castillo (aka: Karl Wilhelm von und zu Grossinger). Major Castillo is the illegitimate son of an Army helicopter pilot and a German heiress to a powerful conglomerate. Born and raised until he was 12 years old in Germany, he never knew his father or his father’s family until his mother found out she was dying from pancreatic cancer and sought out his roots so Karl would have family to live with (note: he also will inherit the German conglomerate). It turns out his father never came back for a reason: he was a Medal of Honor recipient who was killed in the Vietnam War, and his Texican family is, as luck may have it, also very rich and powerful. The Castillo’s were very happy to take Karl in to live with them.
In “The Hostage”, an American Diplomat and his family are stationed in Argentina when the wife of the diplomat was kidnapped from the Kansas restaurant parking lot by an unknown person or persons (kidnapping in Argentina is commonplace). However, days pass and there is no word from the kidnappers, which is a bit unusual, leading the people in charge to fear for the worst…that is, her body will show up. The U.S. President hears about this kidnapping and calls on C.G. Castillo / Charley / Carlos / Karl, to go down to Argentina and find out what really happened since he is not sure he can believe the written reports of the U.S. Ambassador stationed in Argentina (it turns out he could, and really had no reason not to trust him, probably just a way to get Charley Castillo down there for this book). Travelling under cover as a reporter for the newspaper Tages Zeitung, which he happens to own, Major Castillo promptly tells almost everyone he meets who he really is, which leads me to wonder why he bothered travelling undercover.
As the story unfolds the reader, and Carlos / Charley / Karl, find out that the Diplomat’s wife’s brother has gone missing and that he, the brother, was involved in an “oil-for-food” scandal involving the U.N and Iraq. Her brother has information that can be embarrassing to many of the oil-for-food people and they pretty much all want him dead (doubly so because he skimmed about $16 million off the top for himself). The kidnappers think the wife of the diplomat knows where her brother is hiding. She does not know, but not believing her, they threaten her children and unceremoniously murder her husband the Diplomat (who happened to be a former basketball player who became a multimillionaire when he sued a beer company after one of their trucks ran him over and ruined his career) when he comes to meet the kidnappers to secure her release. Luckily, they leave her with her dead husband so she is no longer “The Hostage” and eventually, when she feels safe, tells Major Castillo that the kidnappers really want her brother.
The remainder of this very long, but easy to read book, involves finding the wife’s brother and learning more about the very complex “oil-for-food” scandal (with the help of a not so savory Russian gangster “friend” Aleksandr Prevsner and his employee former CIA agent Howard Kennedy). Issues are resolved about as well as they can be, knowing that the next book, or several books, will take the plot to its conclusion. To help move things along in the next few books, Major Castillo is named the head of a newly formed secret Homeland Security based organization called the: “Office of Organizational Analysis” that will, supposedly, ferret out terrorists and figure out the “oil-for-food” scandal.
In a developing love story, that I am sure will blossom in the next few books, Carlos/Charley/Karl met a woman police officer, Betty Schneider, in Book 1 and now she is back in “The Hostage” ever so briefly, working with the Major in Argentina at his request (yup…they got into it in his hotel room). I just hope that Betty can take a more prominent / important role in the coming books.
Overall “The Hostage” is an interesting easy read. A bit smaltzy in some areas, a bit convenient in others (like why almost everyone is rich and powerful and have private airplanes to globe trot with), a bit convoluted and confusing, but over time I hope to see the issues come together and be explained and / or resolved.
Major Castillo is a mish-mash of people at times very capable and at other times very faulty, but a very interesting lead character that will grow on the reader as they get to know more about him. I’m hoping Book 3 has a bit more action and plot line advances and a little less rehash of Books 1 and 2.