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  2006-02-04-Point of Entry
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2006 blog


Book Review

Point of Entry: Global thriller
with a new cast of characters, Feb. 4, 2006

Point of Entry by Peter Schechter, Rayo division of HarperCollins, 2006, 323 pages, $24.95

By Donald H. Harrison

In this thriller, the bad guys are the Syrians, their target is the United States, the weapon of choice is atomic. So which foreign intelligence service do you expect to discover the plot?  

If you guessed "the Israelis," you're wrong.  In fact, the Mossad, the Shin Bet and all those guys are not even mentioned in this thriller—which must be a first in any spy novel dealing with the Middle East.  Reading Point of Entry, I began to fear that there would be no entry point for this website—that is, no substantive "Jewish angle" for us to explore—when Schechter kindly introduced CIA Director Willy Perlman, whose route into the spy bureaucracy is as unusual  as he is a character: he first distinguished himself as an epidemiologist.

Although he plays a pivotal roll,  he is just a minor character, a supporting actor in what one supposes will someday become another film of this genre.  The country whose intelligence unmasks the Syrians' purposes, albeit by  serendipity, is—are you ready for this?—Colombia, which has problems of its own dealing with violent drug traffickers.

Ah, but this is a Colombia with an idealistic woman president, who knows how to use her beauty as a former Miss Universe to catch the attention of powerful men, and her brains and innovative thinking to hold that attention.  The daughter of diplomats slain by terrorists, she hates the evil forces in the world, loves the good, and is bright enough to know the difference. For her, author Schechter includes as an inscription a Petrarch maxim: "Rarely do great beauty and great virtue dwell together."  Among the leaders most smitten by this remarkable woman is the widower American President John Stockman. And therein lies a subplot that even brings in old Fidel Castro.

So, now that you have a sense what the book is about, let's look at the fictional Perlman.  His father was a survivor of Dachau, who later became a U.S. diplomat.  After retiring, the father advocated for various Jewish causes, including chaining himself in a ballroom of the Soviet embassy to protest restrictions against Jewish emigrations.  "This was Willy Perlman's family—people who had opinions and took stands," Schechter informs us.

The diplomat's child grew up in various world capitals, and "could speak Portuguese like a surfer from Rio or Italian like a Roman politician." At the same time, "he was a devout Jew and had clear and definitive opinions of what was right or wrong, better or worse.  For Willy Perlman, living in a Western secular democracy was more right and better than any other thing in the world."

But, as a doctor, he had work to do elsewhere. He labored in rural Africa and in urban India.  He came to the attention of the American government by identifying a new strain of tuberculosis that did its damage in the wake of the AIDS pandemic.  Describing his work one day to a Washington insider, he explained. "You have to understand culture, behavior, and motivation, and pay a lot of attention to detail. I'm like a public health spy."

Nu? So, who better to put in charge of  the CIA?

Author Schechter, no doubt, foresees a great future in fiction for the gorgeous presidente of Colombia—and he may be right.  But, who knows, Perlman may also be a hot prospect