The Lion’s Game

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The title character of Nelson DeMille’s ninth novel The Lion’s Game is a Libyan terrorist, Asad Khalil, whose name means Lion in Arabic. Having trained for over a decade for his particularly bloody Jihad, Khalil sets out on his holy mission to exact revenge from America for the 1986 bombing of his country. Cunning, ruthless, and highly intelligent, Khalil brazenly enters the United States as an alleged defector, commits mass murder to escape from his federal escorts, and races across the continent to assassinate the men who had flown the planes that swept over the compound of Colonel Moammar Qaddafi, killing Khalil’s entire family more than a decade earlier.

The task of stopping Khalil falls mainly on the shoulders of New York City detective John Corey. Wounded a year earlier and in a state of semi-convalescence, Corey is assigned to the Anti-Terrorist Task Force, a joint team that includes representatives from the FBI and CIA. Corey brings the street sense of a veteran policeman to the investigation, but he makes trouble for his partners from federal agencies who are more accustomed to following protocols in pursuing criminals such as Khalil. While Khalil stalks his targets, Corey and his team members try first to determine the terrorist’s target, and then to foil his attempts to complete his series of murders.

DeMille creates suspense by alternating chapters that relate Khalil’s pursuit of his victims with ones that allow Corey to speak in his own voice of his pursuit of the Lion. The detective’s irreverent attitude toward authority and racy language, first displayed in DeMille’s Plum Island (1997), adds a touch of humor that offsets the serious and tragic events of the novel. The obligatory love interest expected in popular thrillers is provided by Corey’s relationship with FBI agent Kate Mayfield, who proves to be both professionally competent and personally seductive. While The Lion’s Game is light on complex characterization and heavy on action, DeMille attempts to create for Corey a personal life that at times affects his performance on the job. DeMille fans will not be disappointed with the novel, and readers hooked on thrillers will find The Lion’s Game a superb introduction to the author’s work.