‘The Intercept’: gripping post-Bin Laden terrorist thriller

Dick Wolf (of “Law & Order” fame) jumps to a place near the top of the thriller writing pack with “The Intercept” (William Morrow), a sensationally well-plotted account of an all-too-believable terrorist scheme in New York City. The book takes us inside the intelligence unit that was assembled by the city’s police department after 9/11, when it became clear that the FBI and the CIA were not up to the job of protecting the city from a terrorist attack. Wolf reminds us of the catastrophic collapse of the U.S. defense and intelligence networks on that awful day 12 years ago, leaving New York City totally defenseless. An early chapter points out that one of the problems in the post-9/11 scene is the time and labor wasted on the FBI’s “terror stings” in which the plots have been more or less planned by our own federal agents:  “For every terror plot that arose organically, which is to say without domestic law enforcement interference — the underwear bomber in a jetliner over Detroit, or the planned attack on Fort Dix, New Jersey — two others originated with the prodding of undercover federal agents. Not unlike actual terror cell leaders, they radicalized vulnerable Muslim suspects by fomenting anti-American dissent and supplying the conspirators with dummy materials, such as fake C-4 explosive or harmless blasting caps…it was no exaggeration to say that the FBI had instigated more terror plots in the United States since 9/11 than Al-Qaeda.”

Wolf’s protagonist Jeremy Fisk isn’t involved in such foolish and potentially dangerous terrorist war games — he and his co-workers are employed to make sure that real terrorists don’t succeed in the nation’s most vulnerable target, New York City.

Fisk is put to the test with a chillingly complex plot that begins with the hijacking of a Scandinavian commercial airliner as a cover for a plot inside New York City timed to coincide with the July 4 celebration and the dedication of One World Trade Center.

Wolf is working on a much larger narrative canvas than he has had in episodic television, but he has been able to put his knowledge of New York (from the 20 years of the various “Law & Order” series) to work in a story drenched in believable urban color. The geography and the people on every page ring true as we learn how easy it is to disappear in Manhattan and how vulnerable the great city is to its enemies.

“The Intercept” cuts back and forth from Fisk’s attempt to track down an apparent terrorist who has enterted the city, with the work of his partner Krina Gersten who is assigned to watch over the people who successfully overcame the terrorist on the airliner and who have become overnight media heroes.

It quickly becomes clear that there must be a connection between the people Gersten is guarding at the Grand Hyatt and the terrorist plot, but Wolf keeps us guessing right up to the final chapter.

“The Intercept” is a very auspicious debut.

Joe Meyers