The following is an unsolicited critical review of By A Thread by Jerry Argetsinger, Associate Professor in the Department of Cultural and Creative Studies, Rochester Institute of Technology:
By A Thread by Marty Beaudet is a compelling political thriller after the manner of a fast moving “Jack Bauer” conspiracy story. Beaudet’s skill is in creating a complex narrative combining American, Austrian, and Arab locales as well as Mormon and Muslim characters while being true to all elements, propelling the action forward in a clear, exciting manner.
In coordinated terrorist attacks, Air Force One has been blown out of the sky and the Vice President’s motorcade ambushed leaving him hospitalized in a coma. When the Speaker of the House is sworn in as Acting President a constitutional challenge and repeal of the Presidential Succession Act thrusts the Administrative leadership of America into confusion. Seemingly unrelated car bombs and unexplained activities of American intelligence officers embolden the forces determined to tear the country apart. A mysterious Kuwaiti Muslim is believed to hold the key to unlocking the secrets that connect and explain the motives of the unknown mastermind behind these perilous events.
American military, intelligence agencies and an investigative reporter race to find the possible terrorist. When the Kuwaiti’s name appears in a Mormon missionary’s weekly report to his Austrian mission president – a mission president with ties to the CIA – an unprepared, naive missionary becomes the unexpected trump card that might win the game for everyone.
Through a well reasoned sequence of events the missionary, Kevin Davis is recruited to befriend the Muslim, reporting all of his activities and conversations to the CIA. Under the concept of “lying for the Lord,” Elder Davis becomes plain “Kevin” and is exempted from just about everything, including wearing his temple garments and following the Word of Wisdom, that stands between a typical Mormon boy and his undercover assignment. But no one is aware that Kevin has struggled with homosexual feelings since puberty and the Muslim’s attraction to him is more than friendship. As their bonds become more personal, the love Davis shares for his Church, his country and his new found friend collide in an exciting chase through Vienna and the Austrian countryside as well intentioned, but conflicting powers hunt them down in order to find or bury the truth.
The most important aspects of Beaudet’s book are that he is a skilled storyteller who understands the details of intelligence, investigative reporting, Muslims, and LDS missionary life. While his characters may become involved in unexpected behaviors, Beaudet understands his subjects and is able to logically motivate and justify their choices. The LDS reader may not be comfortable with actions that are taken, but their culture and teachings are acknowledged.
Several LDS themes emerge beginning with Joseph Smith’s statement that “The time will come when the Constitution and Government will hang by a thread and will be ready to fall … but this people, the Latter-Day Saints, will step forth and save it.” The actions of the LDS mission president and his recruited missionary are singularly founded on their belief that the oft quoted statement is prophetic. It may be a surprising take when the Austrian mission president is depicted as an operative of the CIA, but missionaries have been accused of being agents and spies for decades. It is interesting to see the notion presented without question or apology as though it is a given. The church leader justifies his actions on the well documented practice of “lying for the Lord,” the uncomfortable Mormon take on the philosophy that, when it comes to fulfilling prophecy, the end justifies the means.
To his surprise and chagrin, unintended consequences accompany such cavalier justifications. When the Mormon missionary and Muslim are regularly seen together around Vienna, the entire gay underground assumes they are a couple. When they become a couple it coincides with their exploits being reported around the world, outing them to their friends, family, countrymen, and religious leaders. What are gay men, both members of suppressive religions, going to do if they are even alive at the conclusion of the story?
It is refreshing that Beaudet provides a gay Mormon character whose homosexuality is not the story, but is a vital aspect of the story about an unlikely person thrust into confronting his conflicting feelings of patriotism, love of church, and discovery of self while being both praised and demonized in the world press. Not everything in this political thriller works out well in the end, but the reader is left with the total satisfaction of an exciting tale told by a writer who knows his subject.
(See the original review posted here.)