I'm of two minds about John J. LeBeau's Collision of Evil, torn between subject matter and quality. On the good side, it's refreshing to see a book that doesn't hide the current state of the world, where terrorism is a danger against which we should always be vigilant. LeBeau is an ex-CIA agent, so he definitely knows that of which he speaks. On the other hand, it's just not a very good book. Cardboard characters, awkward plotting, and too much propaganda bring the novel down. This is LeBeau's first book; I'm hoping that subsequent ones will be more polished.
An American tourist in the Bavarian Alps is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hiking in the mountains during a rainstorm, Charles Hirter stumbles upon a cave containing a large stack of old crates. On the way back down the mountain, he is murdered. Kommissar Franz Waldbaer is in charge of the investigation. Was it a random murder, or was it planned? Waldbaer’s life is complicated further when Hirter's brother, Robert, shows up not only to bring the body home but also to help in the investigation. Robert is much more than he seems, and their investigation begins to reveal a terrifying plot that will jolt German society, and Western society in general, to its very core.
Collision of Evil is a plot-heavy novel, and there isn't necessarily anything wrong with that. For the most part, the plot of the novel is LeBeau's strength, slowly revealing the plan to the reader as Hirter and Waldbaer discover pieces of it. We do see things from the villains' perspectives as well, but LeBeau only gets clear with these viewpoints once our heroes have more of an understanding of what is going on. He plays his cards close to his chest in the meantime, which adds a sense of menace to the entire proceedings. As mentioned before, it's also nice to see a plot actually taken from current headlines rather than manufacturing villains for the sake of avoiding reality. As the plot is executed, the book turns almost riveting as the reader wonders whether or not our heroes will succeed in stopping it.
While plot-driven novels are okay, they can be extremely boring if the characters aren't that interesting to read about. In this case, they generally aren't. LeBeau gives them just enough characterization so that the book can't be considered an essay but nowhere near enough to make them interesting. Waldbaer comes closest to actually being fleshed out, but even he suffers. LeBeau illustrates his characters through their mannerisms, with the occasional info-dump as one of them explains to another some piece of their own history. Sometimes they do it because it might have some bearing on the case; other times it's to showcase that these two are beginning to respect each other. Never is it that interesting. The digressions back to the final days of World War II are more interesting at times than the lead-up to discovering what's actually going on in the novel.
The prose is also rather wooden, and annoying asides that are presumably meant to add to the characters instead seem pointless. Hirter and a CIA technician back home, Caroline O'Kendall, have some kind of weird flirtation going for no real reason. They've met once, I believe, maybe twice. When Hirter is first told of her, he remembers that she is "pretty." O'Kendall kind of remembers that he was nice-looking too, but that's pretty much all there is to it, even when they do eventually meet in the novel. The fact that these characters aren't that interesting to begin with makes these lines even more off-putting than they already are.
Other things either make Collision of Evil look sloppy or look like it has its own ulterior motives, including editing mistakes and plot elements inserted only to make a point. First, a man sneaks up behind another man and kills him, but as he's doing the sneaking, LeBeau tells us that the second man's jacket is missing buttons. Since the scene is from the point of view of the attacker, how could he know this? Then the lead bad guy has a vision that they're in danger of discovery, prompting them to move just as Hirter and Waldbaer are about to discover them. This seems horribly out of place in a "regular" (i.e. non-fantasy or religious) novel, a way to move the plot forward because LeBeau couldn't think of anything else - not the fact that he has a vision (religious fanatics have them all the time), but that the vision is actually true.
Several propaganda points in the novel are irritating, despite the fact that I probably would agree with him on them. First, LeBeau takes a veiled shot at the German health care system by noting in passing that Waldbaer's wound (when he gets shot) gets infected in the hospital.
Secondly, and more egregious, is a scene where a German committee is deciding how to act on intelligence that the CIA has given them about the plot. One very vocal woman seems more interested in whether or not the information was obtained through torture than she is on what they can do to stop the plot. LeBeau describes her in such an ugly way that it has to be on purpose, especially considering he calls her boss "fit and sleek." She is described as the committee chairman's "corpulent deputy." Later in the meeting, LeBeau says: "With a tug at the red-patterned silk scarf intended to conceal her multiplicity of chins…" Finally, there's "The heavy woman shifted in her chair, which groaned in rebuke at the strain." I have no sympathy for this woman's point of view, but even I'm offended! Come on, Mr. LeBeau. Don't they teach subtlety in the CIA?
I will give Collision of Evil props for the plot, but I wish it had been a better book to point up the importance of this type of book in modern times. I can't recommend the book at all, despite really liking its overall intention. The pace is slow, the writing is wooden, and it’s just a chore to get through. This is an exciting plot, but told in a dull, misguided manner.