“What if a ship carrying a cargo of stolen Russian missiles bound for Iran was mysteriously hijacked? What if Israel was secretly behind the hijacking? What if the guy who fills the vending machines in the break room figured the whole thing out?”
So reads the blurb on the back cover of Matthew M. Frick’s novel “Open Source,” in which Casey Shenk, an inquisitive vending route driver in Savannah, Georgia, spends his spare time following international events and writing his observations on his blog.
When Casey starts looking into a black market arms deal gone wrong, he slowly puts the pieces of the puzzle together from open sources, inviting interest from a brilliant, but insecure female analyst, Susan Williams, who works for a private intelligence-gathering firm in New York. But it also invites unwelcome attention from Russian and Israeli nationals seeking to prevent Casey from getting his spot-on theories out in the open.
It’s a romantic idea, a small-time, working-class blogger using the power of the Internet and the wealth of information from 24-hour news sources to uncover a tale of international intrigue. The blurb certainly made me want to read the story. Unfortunately, the blurb pretty much is the story, and the description of the plot beneath the blurb fills in the blanks. There’s a hijacking. Casey figures it out. He and Susan get caught in a web of intrigue. That’s about it. The ending – which merely recapitulates Casey’s theory and ties up a few loose ends – is pretty much anticlimactic.
Frick is a writer of articles and conference papers on the geopolitics of the Middle East, and, alas, “Open Source” reads like one. The detail is rich, the story is very believable, and the text is brave enough to reference real leaders like Benjamin Netanyahu, as if they were offstage characters. Frick is a writer who knows what he’s talking about when it comes to Middle Eastern and international affairs. But there’s not a lot of suspense, and there’s very little dramatic tension. The relationship between Casey and Susan seems a little forced. And there’s a subplot about an Algerian terrorist that distracts from the main story and adds little value to it.
To be fair, Frick has talent as a storyteller. If he writes his next book more like a novelist and less like an analyst, it should be the engaging read that “Open Source” should have been.
There are very few copyediting errors, mostly involving missed lowercase spellings where capital spellings belong (“social security”), missing quotation marks at the end of a dialogue sentence, and spellings that are more of questionable style than they are errors (“re-fuelling”).
Reviewed by Steven Maginnis
Freelance writer. Blogger of current events and popular culture. Reviewer for IndieReader.com since 2009. www.stevenmaginnis.blogspot.com