Executive Times






2006 Book Reviews


Polar Shift by Clive Cussler




(Mildly Recommended)




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Polar Shift is another Clive Cussler brand of the Kurt Austin variety. What attracts readers to this? One dimensional, focused villains, a hero cooler than words, and a plot that’s not character driven. Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter 3, pp. 45-54:


Before Frank Malloy had become a high-priced consul­tant to the nation’s police departments, he’d been the quintes­sential cop. He loathed disorder of any kind. His uniforms were always pressed and sharply creased. In a holdover from his Marine Corps days, his salt-and-pepper hair was cut close to the scalp mil­itary style. Frequent workouts kept his compact body fit and mus­cular.

Unlike many police officers who found stakeout tedious, Malloy enjoyed sitting for hours in a car, watching the ebb and flow of traf­fic and pedestrians, ever alert for the slightest rent in the fabric of so­ciety. It also helped that he had an iron bladder.

Malloy was parked on Broadway, checking out the steady parade of fast-walking pedestrians and gawking tourists, when a man cut away from the crowd and made his way straight for the unmarked NYPD cruiser.

The man was tall and slim, and looked to be in his thirties. He wore a tan, lightweight suit, wrinkled at the knees, and scuffed New Balance running shoes. He had red hair and beard, and his goatee was cut to a point. His shirt collar was unbuttoned and his tie hung loose. Years as a beat cop had honed Malloy’s ability to size up peo­ple at a quick glance. Malloy pegged the man as a reporter.

The man came over to the car, bent down so his face was level with the window and flashed his photo ID.

“My name is Lance Barnes. I’m a reporter with the Times. Are you Frank Malloy?”

The question spoiled Malloy’s triumph.

“Yeah, I’m Malloy,” he said with a frown. “How did you make me, Mr. Barnes?”

“Easy,” the reporter said with a shrug of his shoulders. “You’re sit­ting alone in a dark blue Ford in a neighborhood where it’s practi­cally impossible to get parking.”

“I must be losing my touch,” Malloy said dolefully. “Either that or I’ve still got cop written all over me.”

Naw, I cheated,” Barnes said with a grin. “They told me at the MACC that you’d be here.”

MACC was shorthand for the Multi-Agency Control Center, the entity in charge of security for the international economic conference that was being held in New York City. Political and business lead­ers were converging on the Big Apple from all over the world.

“I cheated too,” Malloy said with a chuckle. “MACC called and said you were coming over.” He studied the reporter’s face and de­cided he looked familiar. “We met before, Mr. Barnes?”

“I think you gave me a jaywalking ticket.”

Malloy laughed. He never forgot a face. It would come to him. “What can I do for you?”

“I’m doing a story on the conference. I’ve heard you’re the top consultant in the field when it comes to dealing with sophisticated techniques of disruption. I wondered if I could interview you about how you plan to deal with the planned protests.”

Malloy owned a firm in Arlington, Virginia, that advised police departments around the country on crowd control. He was on the boards of a number of companies that made riot-control equipment, and his business and political connections had made him relatively rich. A favorable story in The New York Times could mean even big­ger bucks for his consulting business.

“Slide in,” he said and reached over to open the passenger door. Barnes got in the car, and they shook hands. The reporter shoved his sunglasses onto his forehead, revealing intense green eyes and sharply angled eyebrows that formed a V similar to the shape of his mouth and chin. He pulled a notebook and a miniature digital recorder from his pocket. “Hope you don’t mind if I record this. It’s insurance, to make sure my quotes are right.”

“No problem,” Malloy said. “You can say anything you want about me, but just spell my name right.” Since he’d left law en­forcement and started his consulting company, Malloy had become a pro at handling reporters. “You were at the press conference?”

“Oh yeah,” Barnes said. “Quite the arsenal! The Long Range Acoustic Devices you’ve got mounted on the Humvees just blow my mind. Is it true those things were used in Iraq?”

“They’re considered nonlethal weapons. They can let out an ear­splitting screech that drowns out even the loudest demonstrators.”

“If someone blasted one hundred and fifty decibels in my ear, I’d stop chanting about peace and justice.”

“We’ll only use the screamers to communicate with large crowds. We tested them the other day. Good for four blocks at least.”

“I’ve read about the Seattle protests. Sounds like that was a nightmare.”

“Uh-huh,” the reporter said, jotting down a few notes. “The an­archists will get the message, all right.”

“My guess is that we won’t need the big artillery. It’s the little stuff that counts, like the scooter patrols and mechanical barriers.”

“I’ve heard you’ve got a lot of high-tech stuff too.”

“True,” Malloy said. “The most effective way to control the crazies is with software, not hardware.”

“How so?”

“Let’s take a ride.” Malloy turned the key in the ignition. As the car pulled away from the curb, he got on the radio. “This is Nomad. Heading north on Broadway.”

“Nomad?” Barnes said after Malloy had signed off.

“I wander around a lot. Keeping an eye on things. The crazies know I’m on the move, but they don’t know where I am. Keeps them on edge.” He turned east, drove a short distance on Park, then made his way back to Broadway.

“Who are these ‘crazies,’ as you call them?”

“When it comes to anarchists, you never know who or what you’re dealing with. Back in Seattle, we had enviro nuts and peace nuts. We had Wiccans and feminist neo-pagans, yelling about the WTO and the Goddess, whoever she is. Most of your mainstream an­archists are against the world economic order. They’re nonviolent when it comes to people, but some of them say corporate property is fair game. Chaos is their main weapon. They’re usually organized in autonomous collectives or affinity groups. They act by consensus and avoid any kind of hierarchy.”

“Given their lack of organization, what exactly are you look­ing for?”

“Hard to describe,” Malloy said. “Pretty much the same stuff I did when I was on the street. The crazies will split up into small groups. Pairs or singles. I just look for patterns of behavior.”

Malloy let out a low whistle. “I’ve still got the scars to prove it. What a mess!”

“What went wrong?”

“The crazies targeted the World Trade Organization. What they call the ‘power elite.’ I was a district supervisor in charge of crowd control. We got caught with our pants around our ankles. Ended up with a hundred thousand demonstrators pissed off at what they said was an oppressive world trade system. There was looting, curfews, cops and National Guard running around shooting rubber bullets or tear gas at the nonviolent as well as violent protesters. The city ended up with an international black eye and a pile of lawsuits. Some peo­ple said the police overreacted. Others said they didn’t do enough. Go figure.”

“As you said, a major mess.”

Malloy nodded. “But the Battle of Seattle was the turning point.”

“In what way?”

“The protesters learned that marching down the street wasn’t enough to get attention. Only direct action worked. You had to break things up, inconvenience people, disrupt the focus of the people in your bull’s-eye.”

“From what I’ve seen around the city today, the power elite have come a long way since Seattle.”

“Hundred percent,” Malloy said. “I was in Philly for the GOP convention when the anarchists made us look silly again. They’d raise hell, then run down the streets with a bunch of overweight cops chas­ing them. Created chaos and confusion. They stirred up the pot at the WTO conference in Miami too. We finally began to get a handle on things at the World Economic Forum here in 2002, and pretty much had our strategy in place for the Republican Convention in 2004.”

“You kept disruptions to a minimum, but there were complaints about civil rights being violated.”

“That’s part of the protest strategy. These guys are sophisticated. It’s mostly a small group of hard-core instigators that moves from city to city. They provoke authority hoping we’ll overreact. Whoops!”

Malloy pulled off to the side, double-parking near a group of peo­ple carrying musical instruments, and barked into his hand radio.

“Nomad to MACC. Guerrilla musicians gathering for an un­permitted march from Union Square to Madison Square Garden.”

Barnes scanned the sidewalk on both sides of the street. “I don’t see anyone marching.”

“They’re walking in two-by-twos now. Nothing illegal about that. They’ll start coming together in a minute—no, wait, there they go now.”

The musicians were coalescing into larger groups, stepping off the curb into the street to form a procession. But before the parade began, police officers on bicycles and scooters swooped in from both sides and began to make arrests.

Barnes furiously scribbled notes.

“I’m impressed,” he said. “That went off like clockwork.”

“It should. That little maneuver was the result of years of expe­rience. We’re only dealing with an in-between economic conference, but there are hundreds of guests and protesters, so there’s the po­tential of big trouble. The crazies are always trying to stay one step ahead of us.”

“How do you tell the real fanatics from people who simply want to protest?”

“Pretty hard. We just arrest anyone who’s a troublemaker and sort things out later.” He took a ringing cell phone from its dashboard cradle and handed it to Barnes. “Check this out.”

The reporter read the text on the phone’s message screen. “It says that the scooter goon squad is wrapped around the guerrilla musi­cians. Telling people to avoid this neighborhood. Calling for cam­eras. Medics and legal observers. Says to blockade cops from arresting demonstrators harassing people in the Theater District. Who’s this from?”

“The crazies. The cops aren’t the only ones who learned from Seat­tle. The anarchists have their own MACC-type media center. They tell the activists what routes to take to stay away from the cops. While we shut down one operation, they’re starting another. “He laughed. “We’re spending multimillions each year on security mea­sures, and they use technology that’s practically free.”

“Don’t they know you can read the same messages?”

“Sure. But the demonstrations are more spontaneous, so we’re al­ways playing cat-and-mouse games with each other. Intel is the name of the game. They’re fast, but it comes down to numbers. We’ve got thirty-seven thousand cops, a blimp, helicopters, video cameras and two hundred of our guys have helmet video cameras connected to the security nerve center.”

“Can’t they monitor the police scanners?”

“We know that they do. Rapid response is the key. You know what they say in a fight, a good big guy can beat a good little guy any day. On a level playing field, we’re going to win.”

Barnes handed the phone to Malloy. “This appears to be for you.”

The text printed on the message screen had changed.


“Huh?” Malloy said. He looked at the phone in his hand as if it had turned to a snake.

“How the hell are they doing this?” he said, turning to Barnes.

The reporter shrugged and made some notes. Malloy tried to clear the screen, but a new message came on.


The screen went blank. Malloy snatched up the radio and tried to call MACC, but the call wouldn’t go through. The cell phone rang again. Malloy listened a few moments, and said, “I’ll get right on it.” He turned to Barnes, his face pale. “That was MACC. They say that the air conditioning broke down in the nerve center. The commu­nications are going haywire. No one knows where the squads are. Traffic lights have gone red all over town.”

They were approaching Times Square. Hundreds of demonstra­tors, apparently unimpeded by the police, were pouring into the square from the side streets. The square was as crowded as New Year’s Eve.

Malloy’s cruiser moved slowly through the mob that surged around it. As they approached the old New York Times Building, the huge video screen stopped showing a Disney character and went black.

“Hey, look at that,” Barnes said, pointing at the screen.

Big letters had appeared in white, streaming across the ABC News Spectacular sign.










A smiley face with horns appeared, then a single word:


“Who the hell is Lucifer?” Malloy said, staring through the wind­shield.

“Beats me,” Barnes said. He reached for the door handle. “Thanks for the ride. I’ve got to file a story.”

Then the word disappeared, and FRANK MALLOY appeared simultaneously on every sign of every size on the square. Panasonic.


Malloy cursed and scrambled out of the car. He scanned the milling crowd. Barnes had been swallowed up among the thousands of protesters. He muttered the name “Lucifer” and a chill ran up his spine. It came to him where he had seen the reporter’s face. The pointed beard, the red hair and the V-angled brows and mouth and the green eyes had subconsciously reminded him of renderings he had seen of Satan.

As Malloy stood there wondering if had gone crazy, he was un­aware that he was under the gaze of those same jade eyes. Barnes had stepped into the doorway of an office building where he could watch Malloy. He held a cell phone to his ear, and he was laughing.

“I just wanted you to know that your plan went off like clock­work. The city is in total breakdown.”

“That’s great,” said the voice on the other end of the line. “Look, we’ve got to talk. It’s important.”

“Not now. Come out to the lighthouse, so I can thank you in person.”

He tucked the phone in his pocket and gazed out at Times Square. A young man had thrown a brick through the front window of the Disney store. Others followed his example, and within min­utes the sidewalks were littered with broken glass. A car was set on fire, sending black billowing smoke toward the heavens. The acrid stench of burning plastic and fabric filled the air. A guerrilla band was marching down the street, playing the theme from Bridge on the River Kwai. The music could barely be heard over the cacophony of honking car horns.

Barnes gazed at the scene with a beatific smile on his satanic face.

“Chaos,” he murmured like a monk chanting his mantra. “Sweet, sweet chaos.”


The villain in Polar Shift wants to transform the world by reversing the magnetic poles. It won’t surprise any reader to learn that Kurt Austin foils the plot and once again, saves the world from disaster.


Steve Hopkins, December 22, 2005



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the January 2006 issue of Executive Times


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