cover image The Scorpion's Gate

The Scorpion's Gate

Richard A. Clarke. Penguin Audiobooks, $39.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-14-305797-0

At its most simplistic, the plot of Clarke's fiction debut pits an American intelligence analyst, a British station chief, a Manhattan newspaper reporter and a former Al Qaeda leader\x96turned\x96democracy lover against an evil oil-grubbing U.S. secretary of defense and his Saudi pals whose sinister plan could plunge us into WWIII. Preventing it from becoming a James Bond\x96style knockoff is the former White House adviser's seasoned knowledge of Middle Eastern geopolitics and his insider's understanding of how things work in the intelligence communities. Unabridged, it poses the daunting aural task of trying to keep track of dozens of characters; a multiplicity of political agenda; constantly shifting locations, schemes and counterschemes; not to mention the deciphering of presumably authentic yet perplexing wonkspeak. A judiciously abridged, less complex story may have made for a more accessible audio version. Reader Dean's eloquent locutions help to clear things up a bit, and he does leaven some of Clarke's more weighty didactic passages. But the author has painted his heroes and villains in primary colors, and Dean follows the numbers a bit too closely. His analyst protagonist speaks in resonant tones that echo truth, justice and the American way. The station chief delivers his plucky Brit lines through a stiff upper lip. Dean's voice develops a harsh edge for the ill-tempered, arrogant defense secretary, twists into a whining mew for his unctuous assistant and slips into a slithery near-hiss for the smarmy Saudis. Too bad the characters' personae aren't a little less obvious and their machinations a little more.Simultaneous release with the Putnam hardcover (Reviews, Aug. 1). (Nov.)