‘The Execution’: Dick Wolf delivers strong second novel

Dick“Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf made a memorable thriller writing debut with last year’s “The Intercept” and his smashing follow-up novel “The Execution” (William Morrow) arrived in bookstores and on electronic devices earlier this month.

Wolf once again takes us deep into the operations of the New York Police Department’s Intelligence Division — the anti-terrorism unit set up in the wake of 9/11 to make up for the ineptness of the CIA and FBI in the months leading up to that catastrophe. So far, the urban equivalent of the CIA has managed to keep tabs on the security of the nation’s largest city, and the biggest terrorist target.

The author brings several decades’ worth of New York City understanding (and location scouting) to the adventures of Jeremy Fisk, the NYPD detective who is part of the intelligence unit. In the first book, Fisk managed to prevent an explosion at the dedication of the Freedom Tower, saving President Obama’s life in the process. Wolf buried a terrible shock in the final pages of the story, however, when Fisk’s police partner (and new girlfriend) was suddenly killed by the leader of the terror plot.

Wolf took a big chance in his first novel with such an unexpected and upsetting subplot, but the impact of the woman’s death haunts Fisk in “The Execution” as the detective is assigned to the security detail of the annual United Nations Week activities Dick1(with added diplomats and world leaders converging on the East Side of Manhattan).

Fisk has been undergoing therapy when the story begins and he brings down a new group of terrorists as they attempt to cross a remote stretch of the U.S.-Canada border.

Wolf crosscuts to Mexico where a beautiful and emotionally remote member of the president’s security detail — Detective Cecilia Garza — investigates a series of apparently drug-related, mass killings that might be connected to a plan to kill the Mexican leader when he travels to the UN gathering.

Garza is a terrific character, brilliant and cool, but with a terrible backstory that slowly filters out as the story unfolds. She meets her match in Fisk, and Wolf develops a relationship between the two people that is emotionally satisfying because it never feels trumped up.

Fisk is fascinated by Garza’s role in the Mexican security forces and understands the challenges she faces:

“His respect for her rose, even as he wondered what truly drove her. Especially someone — and this trait was impossible to overlook — so attractive. In such a male-dominated field as law enforcement, beauty was an impediment to success, because others tended not to take an attractive person quite as seriously as a person of average looks — and even more, because such people are used to being catered to and generally are given special consideration early in life, advantages they come to take for granted. Garza apparently had never fallen into this trap.”

The author’s mastery of plotting and pacing is demonstrated in a remarkable chapter rather late in the novel when Garza and Fisk have a drink in a Manhattan hotel and we get to see the emotional and career common ground that they share. Few thriller writers would take the chance to slow down the momentum of rising suspense to give us this extended personal moment, but it adds to our understanding of Garza and Fisk, and gives the finale much higher stakes.

“The Execution” proves that “The Intercept” wasn’t a fluke. Dick Wolf should be as successful and as enduring in the world of books as he has been in the television industry.

Joe Meyers