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The Mirage

Posted by Nick Sharps On Friday, June 22, 2012

At first glance THE MIRAGE by Matt Ruff struck me as irreverent and offensive. I was offered a chance to read the book for free through the Amazon Vine program and I passed it up. A couple weeks later I ended up coming across a review of THE MIRAGE that made me pause and think. From there the desire was planted and I ended up purchasing a copy, reasoning that even if it turned out to be a terrible novel at least I could write a scathing condemnation of it. As it turns out, not only is THE MIRAGE an excellent novel, but it is also everything a thriller should be.

On November 9th, 2001 four jetliners are hijacked by Christian fundamentalists. Three find their targets: the Tigris and Euphrates World Trade Centers and the Arab Defense Ministry. The passengers of the fourth prevent the terrorists from reaching Mecca. This attack ignites a War on Terror, led by the United Arab States. Years later Mustafa al Baghdadi, agent for Arab Homeland Security, captures a suicide bomber. The man claims that the world they are living in is a Mirage, and in the "real" world it is America that is a superpower and the Middle East that is a third world country. So begins a thrilling investigation that will uproot the very foundation of everything Mustafa knows and believes.

So you can see where I may have been a little hesitant to read THE MIRAGE. The very concept is audacious and twisted and more than a little intriguing. At first it seems like a delicious sort of heresy, an act of adolescent rebellion. As it turns out though, THE MIRAGE is anything but adolescent and heretical. Though bold and original, Ruff's thriller turns out to be introspective and thoughtful, and at times even humorous.

The story is told mainly from the perspective of Mustafa al Baghdadi, though there are also chapters that follow his Homeland Security partners Salim and Amal as well. Mustafa is a likable lead, a dedicated law enforcer with somer serious regrets. Salim and Amal are also decent characters with fleshed out back stories but they do seem to lack a little in the personality department. Really though, it's the supporting cast that makes THE MIRAGE such a colorful and fun book. In this alternate reality Saddam Hussein is gangster, Osama bin Laden is a Senator of the United Arab States, and al-Qaeda is an ultra covert counter terrorist unit. There are more fun cameos throughout but I won't ruin their appearances by announcing them here.

The investigation is well handled, giving readers a guided tour of a world that is a delight to explore. Ruff's alternate reality is clever and colorful. The pop-culture references are particularly witty, specifically the television crime dramas and punk rock bands. Things are foreign but still recognizable and much of the time I found myself smirking as I read. Another sharp technique Ruff utilizes to tell the story is the inclusion of excerpts from the Library of Alexandria (the alternate reality Wikipedia). These excerpts are superb world building tools that offer background knowledge and set the stage for the chapters that precede them.

The aspect of the Mirage itself is handled very well. I had wondered how Ruff would pull off the alternate history explanation but he did not fail to disappoint. The investigation leads Mustafa and his friends from Baghdad to Sadr City, all the way across the Atlantic to the D.C. Greenzone and surrounding territories. The adventure is full of non-stop thrills and world shaking revelations. I regret to say that the finale turned out to be a letdown.

THE MIRAGE is a ballsy thriller the likes of which you have never read. Thoughtful and witty, Ruff crafts a novel experience that is sure to make you stop and reconsider your place in the world.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Some words but very minimal
Violence: Shooting, nothing extra gory
Sex: None

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