Today’s Bookbag title, Only Wrong Once by Jenifer Ruff, is one from my genre happy place: suspense. And this story certainly delivers.
Told from multiple points of view, this is a what-if story–what if a bioterrorist attacked the USA? Who would fill what roles in that scenario? Using the perspectives of an FBI counterterrorism agent, his wife, the terrorist, and the terrorist’s cousin, Ruff explores the motivations of each character to great effect.
Amin, the terrorist’s cousin, is one of the most interesting characters I’ve read. He’s a straight-laced banker in North Carolina, struggling to reconcile living in American culture with his Muslim upbringing. His life is low-key, until his cousin, Kareem, starts messaging him, urging him to return to Syria for a visit.
Amin welcomed the opportunity to become close friends with his cousin again. Family was forever. Their conversations became more frequent, though some of Kareem’s comments alarmed him. Maybe they were supposed to be sarcastic, but they might be construed as extreme. A brief glance a their last string of instant messages reaffirmed Amin’s worries.
Kareem: I’m concerned for you. How can you find spiritual purity surrounded by lust and greed in America? I think you should come here.
Amin: It’s not so bad. We shower every day. That helps with the purifying. Ha-ha.
After Amin tries joking around about The Bachelorette, Kareem gets to the purpose of his messages.
Kareem: Our main focus should be fulfilling Allah’s prophecy.
Amin: Unfortunately, I also have to listen to my boss, if I want to stay employed.
Kareem: Forget your boss. Your future depends on living according to Allah’s word. It’s hard for you to see clearly because corruption is too prevalent there. You have to move past your fears, get out of your box. Be brave. Live the life you’re supposed to live.
Amin: What fears? What box?
Kareem: I’ll pray for you. I have to go now.
Amin: Back to the lab?
In an effort to reconnect with his past and explore his spirituality, Amin eventually agrees to go to Syria, where he sees almost first-hand what his cousin has been up to. Meanwhile, when strange and violent illnesses pop up in a seemingly random way, Quinn, the FBI agent, is called in to investigate possible bioterrorism, an assignment that becomes as personal as it can get. And he has to stop an imminent attack despite it.
Also in my Bookbag: Ostrich Mentality
What O titles are in your Bookbag?