The Camel Club is a quartet of ageing conspiracy theorists, who meet in isolated locations under cover of darkness to discuss their latest ideas. One night the member who calls himself Oliver Stone proposes that they actually do something: bring down the country’s intelligence chief, Carter Gray. Before the others can decide, they witness a murder. Narrowly escaping with their lives, their path is clear - find the killers before the killers find them.
The victim worked for Gray’s National Intelligence Centre, though he was technically still employed by the Secret Service. Alex Ford is nearing the end of his twenty years with the Service, and would be quite happy just counting down to retirement and chatting up Department of Justice lawyer/bartender Kate Adams. Still, the case seems like a simple suicide - almost. After a chat with old friend Oliver Stone, Alex decides to act on his doubts. And Gray, anxious to avoid any bad publicity for his president, his agency, or himself, is not happy. So Alex finds himself back on protection detail, assigned to guard the president during a hometown visit. Which is where a terrorist cell is planning a surprise that will put the town of Brennan down in history....
This could easily have been just another 24-style thriller. Bits of it actually reminded me of 24, and the vice-president in the latest series reminds me of the one in this book. The ingredients are all there: Middle-Eastern terrorists, a plot involving the president, corrupt officials, home-grown traitors, the threat of World War III, and one federal agent in a position to stop it. Fortunately, this book has the Camel Club. They made the book; four misfits bound by a love of conspiracy. Each had some experience or knowledge that helped in the piecing-together of the whole, and they provided some wonderful humour as well. They were the perfect civilians to pit against a pair of powerful villains; too often when reading thrillers you have to wonder how Average Joe managed to elude the sophisticated baddies, but the Camel Club members all combined the qualities of intelligence and paranoia. It was perfectly believable that they could outwit their opponents.
Another point in its favour is its balance. While American law and order does win the day (of course), the portrait painted of the last few decades of American foreign policy is far from flattering. While it doesn’t suggest that the U.S. has brought terrorism on itself, it does show that the interaction between East and West is a two-way street. Although some of the more eyebrow-raising details of American interference do prompt the question: is it all the truth, or an author’s conspiracy theory?