Do you remember the ‘missing’ CIA torture tapes? No? Well, have a look at the appendix to ‘Inside Out’ and you will find a documentary chronology of the news reports about that incident. In this, the second in the new Ben Traven series of novels, Barry Eisler uses the missing torture tapes as a first step in an examination of media spin, the oligarchy, and torture.
By now, many of us have become skeptical about anything the US government has to say about its behavior, and with good reason. The ‘smoking gun / mushroom cloud’ that turned into a tragic farce - G. W. Bush looking here, looking there, looking everywhere while hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died. ‘We must work in the dark’ turning into ‘we do not torture’, turning into ‘it is not torture if we do it’, turning into ‘we had to torture and we are proud of it’. The NSA surveillance of US citizens on US soil - the initial denials, the eventual partial admissions, and the use of ‘state secrets’ to prevent any redress. All these and more tell us, as if we didn’t know before, that when the US government speaks to its people we can expect only lies and propaganda.
So one of the themes of ‘Inside Out’ is the masterful way in which the US government manages the media. Missing torture tapes? 92 of them? Tell the media on a Friday evening that the CIA has ‘discovered’ that there are 2 tapes missing from the archives. Say nothing more until the mild ensuing controversy has died down and the media has managed to focus attention away from torture and onto the latest about Lindsey Lohan. Then announce that ‘further investigation’ has ‘revealed’ that it was actually 92 tapes missing, not just 2. Oops, our bad. By the time the second announcement is made, any questions about the significance of missing tapes have already been asked and ignored, and the risk of actual accountability is slight.
Another thread running through the novel is the oligarchy: the ‘power elite’ who sit at the top of the political and economic food chain. The loose confederation of corporate executives, wealthy stockholders, and high government officials who operate largely above the law with little or no accountability for their actions. Those for whom we are instructed to ‘look forward, not backward’ when they are found to have committed egregious crimes.
Mainly, though, this is a thriller. Near super-hero good guy engaged in a fight to the death with a worthy opponent, both of them pawns in a larger game. And it works well as a thriller, with enough plot twists to prevent it being predictable, and enough interesting characters to keep the reader engaged. It is also a much better written novel than its predecessor, ‘Fault Lines’. The political themes are present but don’t interfere with the plot - in fact, the politics actually advances the plot, especially the Dick Cheney-like character.