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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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DeMille’s Latest is #1

Garden City novelist Nelson DeMille’s The Panther (Grand Central Publishing) was number one on The New York Times’ fiction bestseller list only weeks after its debut, according to the paper’s Sunday, Nov. 4 edition. This was no small accomplishment, given that J.K. Rowling recently held the top spot.

The next stop on his current book tour in support of The Panther is a local one, to be held on Wednesday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m., at Old Westbury Gardens, in Old Westbury. Tickets are $35 per person for members of The Friends of Old Westbury Gardens, and $45 for non-members. DeMille will speak, answer questions, and sign copies of his latest book on that evening. More details are at www.oldwestburygardens.org.

DeMille’s storylines and characters are a vivid reminder that the world is like a bad neighborhood at three in the morning, and I believe that’s a major part of his appeal. Indeed, The Panther, his 17th novel, is an engrossing tale built around one of DeMille’s signature characters, John Corey, the former NYPD homicide detective who works for the federal government’s Anti-Terrorist Task Force along with his wife, FBI agent Kate Mayfield. As in his other Corey books, DeMille’s fiction offers history lessons, intelligence briefings, and an update on U.S. efforts to combat terrorism. The Panther is set in Yemen, a nation rarely mentioned in the American media.

“It’s not like there’s no news being made there,” DeMille said, during a recent interview, in reference to Yemen, which is situated immediately to the south of Saudi Arabia. “It’s just not being reported.” Few journalists are on the ground in Yemen, and for good reason.

“Al Queda has taken over a couple of cities in the south of Yemen. They’re looking for a staging ground where they can launch their attacks against the West, whether it is the United States or Europe,” he continued.

Corey and Mayfield are tasked, in DeMille’s fictional Yemen, circa 2004, with tracking down Bulus ibn al-Darwish, al-Numair, also known as The Panther. The Panther is a New Jersey native and Columbia University graduate who moves overseas and becomes a terrorist leader and well-known jihadist against U.S. interests, with the federal government believing this make-believe character was instrumental in the real-life October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in the Gulf of Aden, just off Yemen.

DeMille, a decorated Vietnam War combat veteran, said he based The Panther in part on the late Anwar Al-Awlaki (1971-2011), a U.S.-born al Queda leader who was killed in Yemen. The U.S. government has been criticized for periodically placing American citizens, even those who left this country long ago to fight against the U.S., on the CIA’s “kill or capture” list. Receiving this presidentially-approved designation means a U.S.-launched Predator drone equipped with Hellfire missiles may be headed your way sometime soon but DeMille shares the federal government’s belief that, if someone becomes an enemy combatant, “they can be killed on the battlefield.”

Those who believe, like I do, that Hollywood should bring Corey and Mayfield off the printed page received good news near the end of our conversation. DeMille reports that Sony TV wants to create a cable television series which dramatizes their terrorist-fighting adventures.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net