Some books refuse to be read. Like recalcitrant lovers, they
withhold their charms for any number of spiteful, petty reasons. This is what I
have gleaned from working with Dennis Paddie’s Ask the Fire:
Paddie’s Ask the Fire does not like the beach. It resisted both attempts
to read it while on vacation in St. Maarten, refusing to allow me past the
prologue. I finally gave up and grabbed the
nearest copy of the not-so-choosy Out Magazine.
Paddie’s Ask the Fire does not like airplanes. It let me finish the
prologue but would not give me purchase in
Book One. Considering the state of airline travel these days, I could almost
understand its hesitance. I had a martini instead.
Paddie’s Ask the Fire does not care for music. I tried to coax it with everything from Bach to Nine Inch
Nails to no avail. It would not be wooed with tunes like a cheap, boozy tart.
It does, however, like my office—where it finally yielded to
me in half-hour increments, taking nearly a month of working days to read. When
it eventually granted me passage, was the effort worth it, you ask? I have to
say “yes,” but I will warn you this is not a book for everyone.
It’s the story of Jared Osborne, an out gay man working with
the CIA—and ultimately freelancing—to root out the Arab terrorists poised to
cause the 9/11 bombings. Aided by his bodyguard/companion, Moss Lake, he takes
on demons both professional and personal in his quest. But the plot is a
skeleton on which hangs brilliant raiments of philosophy and mythology as well
as history from the Knights Templar and Freemasonry.
If that sounds like an unwieldy combination, the proof of
its success is in the reading—and in Jared Osborne, a fully realized character
who manages to be spy and philosopher simultaneously. Paddie never lets one
side of Osborne run away with the other. Both are commingled beautifully. And
Paddie also does a fine job of fleshing out the other characters, particularly
the widow Sabine Horvath, a Texan-Jewish heiress/art collector with ties to
Mossad. There’s even a love story with Moss and his boyfriend Lambert.
Underlying all the philosophy and covert operations is a
fine sense of dread and anticipation. Though the book offers up a creative look
at a world substantially different from yours and mine, it does not create an
alternate reality where 9/11 never happens. It does happen despite Osborne’s
best attempts to thwart it, and you know he’ll fail from the beginning. Such a
story of sweep and scope demands your attention, and Ask the Fire—though
eminently readable—is not an easy read. But like all challenges, it offers its
own unique rewards once met. I’m glad I was able to conquer it.
Just don’t try to take it to the beach.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler