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Book Review: Yeates’s new lawyer-military-terrorism thriller

Bay of One Hundred Fires by J. Lanier Yeates, Brazos Valley Press, 256 pp, 2004, $24.95
Reviewed by N. Stephan Kinsella

For readers looking for the next Tom Clancy or John Grisham, or for the perfect beach novel for 2005, the new thriller by first-time novelist and prominent Houston lawyer Lanier Yeates is for you. Bay of One Hundred Fires is an intriguing blend of geopolitical intrigue, Naval intelligence, high-tech weaponry and colorful Southern culture. Scenes replete with local color carry the reader from antebellum homes along the Mississippi River to storied venues in New Orleans, including a charitable gala at Audubon Park, aptly called the Zoo-to-Do, and dinner at the famed Rex Room at Antoine’s in the French Quarter.

Bay is a lawyer-military-terrorism thriller centered on an imaginative and interesting terrorist attack on America. The tale begins, innocently enough, at the modest home of a Cuban family of four in the picturesque city by Cienfuegos Bay—the Bay of One Hundred Fires. The stage for intrigue and action is set when the father and son, while fishing in a remote spot in the bay, are strafed by a Cuban MiG because the Cuban government thinks they might have seen something they are not supposed to see. And that could threaten a clandestine operation at the big base near Cienfuegos, where a suspiciously enormous low-flying transport aircraft frequently arrives near a supposedly abandoned nuclear power plant.

While the father is killed, the son, Juan, is rescued by a US Navy chief petty officer sailing from Guantanamo Bay to Pensacola. Juan, a reserve Cuban Naval officer, is handed over to interrogators at the Office of Naval Intelligence, who, along with the CIA, quickly become interested upon hearing his description of the aircraft.

The focus then shifts to the other major characters and plot threads—Bay is Clancyesque with its multiple, converging plot lines and characters—including Juan’s beautiful sister, Marilisa, a Press Attache for the Cuban National Sports Authority, stationed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Navy Lieutenant Commander Fletcher Smith. Smith, in Halifax during a port visit by his ship, the nuclear-powered guided-missile cruiser USS California, ends up meeting Marilisa, who has just learned of her father’s death. With emotions running high, Smith and Marilisa quickly become lovers. Other key characters include maverick CIA analysts, a self-made oil explorer and Hoss Mueller, Captain of the California.

The story centers on an alliance between a Cuban dictator, a new despot in Venezuela, and Middle Eastern terrorists, funded by Arabian oil profits and employing rogue scientists to develop horrible weapons to be deployed to the alliance’s enemy states around the world. The Cuban dictator’s facilities and fleet of nuclear missile firing submarines play a key role in this scheme. (Yeates amusingly refuses to refer to certain distasteful characters by name: Castro is sarcastically referred to as “El Presidente”; the Clinton administration is only referred to as the “previous” administration, and so forth.)

Without giving too much of the plot away, one of the novel’s most imaginative evil schemes can be touched on—a plan involving used automobile tires impregnated with deadly Sarin gas to cause unprecedented carnage at a southern university sporting event where alert scientists at the university race against time to stay one step ahead of the deadly scheme. Bay also spins an intriguing possibility as to what Saddam Hussein might have done with the deadly weapons many believed he had—send them to Castro by way of Syria just before the American-led coalition invasion of Iraq. The nuclear material could then be processed in Cuba and sent to Venezuela where it would be developed into nuclear weapons for distribution to a global terrorist network. Also part of the scheme are submarines at a secret base at Cienfuegos, bought by the North Koreans from the bankrupted ex-Soviet republics, to be armed with nuclear missiles.

As the multilayered novel unfolds and the nefarious schemes of the worldwide network of terrorists is revealed, US Naval Intelligence works to unravel these mysteries stemming from Juan’s revelations. The California and its crew are central to the response provided by US intelligence.

Interestingly, Yeates, a graduate of Louisiana State University and LSU Law School, served in the Navy during the ’70s and actually served aboard the real USS California, as a member of its first crew. Some of the ideas for this book arose when, while the California was stationed in Guantanamo Bay for refresher training, Yeates heard from public media sources about the Soviet base at Cienfuegos. It was during the early 70’s that terrorism was becoming recognized more and more as a serous threat, and thus it was coming to the fore in international relations. By the mid-1980’s, terrorism was quite prevalent as the Cold War wound down at the end of the decade with the self-demise of the Evil Empire – so labeled by President Ronald Reagan. Therefore, for the early 70’s, Yeates is a member that generation of Americans who served on active duty with the Navy during the Vietnam War. This generation included John McCain, John O’Neill – and, of course, John Kerry.

Yeates was at the helm when the California went to sea for the first time in 1974, and again in 1998 when it sailed to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to be scrapped. Yeates’s military experience and obvious mastery of military technology and operations infuses the novel with a sense of realism not usually seen in somewhat fantastically premised thrillers. I became fascinated by Yeates’s diverse development of his characters, and his minute detail in describing Halifax and New Orleans, including the romantic ambience of their top-of-the-line hotels and restaurants. He spun an incredibly entwined drama around a sinister plot portending dire apocalypse. His writings are deeply imaginative as he spins a tale of intrigue and fictional action. Nevertheless, he subtly, and perhaps somewhat subliminally, posits a penetrating view of what he believes to be the primary threat to our national security in the 21st century, to wit: world-wide terrorism.

In sum, Yeates’s first novel is an absorbing page-turner—one that takes today’s headlines and turns up the octane to deliver a frighteningly realistic geopolitical thriller that cannot be put down. The fascinating descriptions of military technology and operations as well as political and legal maneuvering, colorful characters and background, and the deft, sure prose of Bay of One Hundred Fires will leave the reader wanting more. This novel promises great things to come by this impressive new author.

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N. Stephan Kinsella is General Counsel of Applied Optoelectronics in Houston and author of International Investment, Political Risk, And Dispute Resolution: A Practitioner’s Guide and Digest of Commercial Laws of the World. www.KinsellaLaw.com.

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