Review – “The Target” by Bill Bowen

Review – “The Target” by Bill Bowen

I’ve read my fair share of thrillers over the last few years.  As we have moved into the new millennium, terrorists have taken the place of communists as the focus of most books on the subject (although Nazi’s still remain at the top of the “world’s greatest evil” pile…).  As the shift from nation-state to terrorist cell has taken place, many of the old rules of conflict have changed dramatically.  In his debut novel, “The Target”, Bill Bowen asks a question that I haven’t come across before – would the policy of deterrence, Mutually Assured Destruction, work when dealing with terrorists?  It’s an interesting question.

I came across “The Target” when Bowen contacted me and asked me to review it.  I read the synopsis provided and found myself intrigued.  After a dirty bomb attack in Chicago, the husband of one of the victims, an Iraq war vet name Mike Curran, struggles with the pointlessness of it all.  In talking with one of his old squad mates, he falls in with a group that is set on orchestrating a strike back at the heart of the Muslim world.  At first reluctant, he moves forward with the hope of deterring future acts of terrorism and sparing others the grief that he himself has had to face.

While Mike is the main focus of the story, there are two other voices that play prominently in the narrative – the sister of the Chicago dirty bomber, Aisha al Rashid, and “Barbara from Berkley”, a liberal blogger from San Francisco.  Through both women you see different perspectives of the story that unfolds around Mike.  Aisha is a moderate Muslim torn between the traditions of her faith and the desire to help modernize her home in Saudi Arabia by supporting the advancement of women.  “Barbara from Berkley” gives voice to the classically progressive viewpoint in America, but also serves to voice some much more libertarian views about the roles of government and corporations in the increasing smaller world we are living in.

For decades the specter of M.A.D. forestalled nuclear war between the US and the USSR.  As we move into the new century, however, there is the very real possibility that nuclear weapons will end up in the hands of a small group of radicals who are not tied to a particular nation and do not wear a uniform.  What this book explores is the idea that while the destruction of a nation’s capitol may not be  the essence of deterrence in the new war on terror – the destruction of a religion’s capitol might.  The target has shifted from Moscow to Mecca.

You could make the argument the only reason M.A.D. was successful was because both sides agreed on the rules, and agreed that it would be successful.  In the new millennium, the rules have changed.  Asymmetrical warfare is the norm, with small cells looking to create the maximum economic and collateral damage possible.  The terrorist play by their own rules, not ours – which begs the question – how can we ever win if we aren’t even playing the same game?

So where did “The Target” leave me?  It left me thinking.  “Barbara from Berkley” paraphrases Sun Tzu at one point in the book:

Have profound understanding of your adversary; maneuver so as to make conflict unnecessary; but, if conflict is necessary, bring adequate force to ensure victory.

I think that’s the true root message of this book.  Seek to understand those that you are in conflict with.  Try and avoid confrontation if you can, without sacrificing your own safety, liberty, and well-being.  But – when you can’t avoid the conflict, either by your choosing or their choosing – make sure that you play to win.  The terrorists need to understand that we will play to win.  The question is – what will it take to get that message across?  Would targeting and threatening Mecca deter the violence going forward or just pour gas on the flames?  It’s hard to say – but history does show us that words didn’t end the war in the Pacific – two bombs did.

These complex questions presented in this book don’t have easy answers.  Bowen explores them all by allowing his characters to speak with their own voices and live in their own skin.  Ultimately, the conflicts that arise in the story do have to be resolved and Bowen does not shy away from having a viewpoint on what should and shouldn’t happen.  Still, this book will give you different perspectives and make you think.  If for no other reason than that, it’s worth the read.

You can check out Bill Bowen on his blog –

*A copy of this book was provided to by the author for the purpose of this review

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