Overview

He is the perfect terrorist.

He's an all-American boy.

Kurt Kurtovic is someone you might know -- and ought to fear.


Kurt was a U.S. Army Ranger. Born and raised in Kansas, he was trained to kill for -- what? Once he might have said "for God and country." Kurt searches in the former Yugoslavia, the land ...
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Innocent Blood: A Novel

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Overview

He is the perfect terrorist.

He's an all-American boy.

Kurt Kurtovic is someone you might know -- and ought to fear.


Kurt was a U.S. Army Ranger. Born and raised in Kansas, he was trained to kill for -- what? Once he might have said "for God and country." Kurt searches in the former Yugoslavia, the land of his parents, for a place, for faith, for a cause. In the midst of the horrors in Bosnia, Kurt is recruited to fight by a holy warrior, a terrorist Iago, who plays on all of Kurt's doubts and fears: America is the evil behind the horror, but Kurt can change it. He can take the war home. He can penetrate to the heart of the U.S. elite. He can teach his country a lesson so horrible it will never forget.

In this riveting story of war, love, and deception, Christopher Dickey takes us to the white-hot core of the terrorist mind. Innocent Blood is as real as today's headlines -- and tomorrow's.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Dickey, a journalist who is now Newsweek's Paris bureau chief, pulls a lot of recent headlines into a surprisingly stable synthesis in order to get inside the head of a terrorist. "I come from Westfield, Kansas, down near the Oklahoma border. Flat lands. Pickup truck lands." Thus does Kurt Kurtovic introduce himself. The very fact that Kurt, the son of Yugoslavian immigrants, could be the boy next door carries us along through the first section of the book. After an alienating childhood and his Muslim father's death, Kurt becomes a U.S. Army Ranger. Dickey shows us his arduous training and moves on to the richly detailed horrors of duty in Panama and the Gulf Warall of this informed by Kurt's inability to make personal connections in a smug America. By 1991, when Kurt has left the Army and is in Zagreb trying to find some traces of his father's life, we know him so well that his decision to join up with the mysterious Rashid seems natural. When that decision brings him to New York and a looming act of terror, it's all made credible by what we have learned about the men behind it. By adding Panama and the Gulf War to the Bosnian plot, Dickey does slightly overstuff his novel with yesterday's news. But at the center of it all is a powerful, plausible story of one man's transformation from a Kansas schoolboy into a Muslim terrorist. The pace is fast, and Dickey succeeds admirably in showing both the psychology and the impeccable, chilling logic that can underlie the most violent behavior. (June) FYI: Christopher Dickey is the son of the late poet and novelist James Dickey, author of Deliverance.
Library Journal
Kurt Kurtovic is a former U.S. Army demolitions expert who, after seeing action in Panama and the Gulf War, resigns and travels to Europe in search of his family's roots. There he encounters Rashid, a friend from the Gulf, who provides him with the closest thing to a family he has ever known. Kurtovic becomes a Muslim and joins an armed faction in Bosnia, using his expertise to kill and destroy. Tired of the senseless killing, he returns to America. Then Rashid asks him to help spread the smallpox virus all over America, ostensibly to get the attention of a nation that ignores the plight of Muslims. Almost too late, Kurt discovers that Rashid is an agent for Saddam Hussein. Dickey (Expats, LJ 6/15/90) probes the psyche of a modern-day terrorist motivated not by religious belief but by loneliness and rootlessness. Not a fast-paced thriller, this intriguing psychological study is all the more frightening because it takes place here and now. For medium and large public libraries.Grant A. Fredericksen, Illinois Prairie Dist. P.L., Metamora
Kirkus Reviews
A first novel from Newsweek correspondent Dickey (Expats, 1990, etc.) that honorably attempts—and ultimately fails—to detail the making of a latter-day terrorist.

The son of Yugoslav refugees who wound up in rural Kansas, Kurt Kurtovic joins the US Army out of high-school to escape a dead-end existence with his widowed mother. He readily takes to the military life and works his way into the Rangers, becoming a demolitions expert. Although raised a Catholic, Kurt develops a growing interest in the hushed-up Islamic faith of his dead father. On a behind-the-lines mission during the Gulf War, he links up with the sinister Rashid, who calls himself a Kuwaiti freedom fighter. Vaguely discontented after the guns fall silent, Kurt leaves the Army and journeys to Bosnia in search of his family's past. In the Balkans, he runs into Rashid, who opens Kurt's eyes to the genocidal campaign Croats and Serbs are waging against indigenous Muslims. Following months of hill-country combat with Islamic irregulars, Kurt goes back to New York City to support Rashid's jihad, helping to create an anti-personnel bomb built around a smallpox virus. It finally occurs to the apprentice terrorist that the shifty Rashid (who, it turns out, is an agent of Saddam Hussein's) plans more than a controlled release for blackmail or demonstration purposes. At the close, Kurt is speeding to an Atlanta sports arena to kill his charismatic mentor before he can unleash the deadly toxin.

In terms of his religious convictions and disaffection with the US, Kurt never quite comes to life. As a result, the sporadically suspenseful narrative lacks the menace it obviously was intended to have in recounting the metamorphosis of a likely all-American lad into an alienated avenger.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451626988
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 10/12/2010
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 336
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Christopher Dickey, Newsweek's award-winning Paris bureau chief and Middle East editor, reports regularly from Baghdad, Cairo, and Jerusalem, and writes the weekly "Shadowland" column -- an inside look at the world of spies and soldiers, guerrillas and suicide bombers -- for Newsweek Online. He is the author of Summer of Deliverance, Expats, With the Contras, and the novel Innocent Blood. He lives in Paris.
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Table of Contents

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Interviews & Essays

On Friday, August 22nd, the barnesandnoble.com Live Events Auditorium hosted Christopher Dickey, Newsweek's Paris Bureau chief and the author of the chilling novel INNOCENT BLOOD.



Moderator: Welcome, Christopher Dickey! Thank you for taking the time to join us online this afternoon to discuss INNOCENT BLOOD.

Christopher Dickey: It's my pleasure to be here.


Parker from Tallahassee, FL: Was there a specific inspiration for the character of Kurt Kurtovic? Did you base him on someone?

Christopher Dickey: I'd like to say right off the bat that he is not based on Timothy McVeigh. I was interested in creating a character who would exemplify a certain kind of alienation in American society. A very dangerous kind. And I started work on the novel in early 1994. The character of Kurt was developed completely in the first few months of writing. It was just a frightening coincidence, if a predictable one, that a real terrorist act would be carried out by a man so much like the man I had in mind.


Katy from Philadelphia, PA: Now that you've written both fiction and nonfiction, which do you prefer? Will you go back to writing nonfiction at some point in the future?

Christopher Dickey: I write nonfiction every week in Newsweek magazine. But there is a lot of excitement -- intellectual excitement -- in writing fiction, because you can explore character in a way that is almost impossible to do when you are writing nonfiction.


ParNR from Warminster, PA: The jacket of INNOCENT BLOOD is quite striking. Did you have any input on its creation?

Christopher Dickey: Yes. The jacket design is close to the design that was first shown me by Simon & Schuster. But I insisted that the eye be as blue as possible. I did not want any confusion about the ethnic background of this terrorist. And I thought if the eye were anything less than icy blue, people would think the character was some kind of "foreigner." For better or worse, when you say all-American, people still think that means blond hair and blue eyes.


Amy G. from NYC: Do you agree that the American media focus too much on violence in their reporting? Did you glean any of your material for the book from your experience in the media?

Christopher Dickey: I think the American media concentrate far too much on violence as something that is purely sensational, or if you will, purely visual. Television loves violence, because it attracts your eye. What is lacking is any clear sense conveyed to the public of what is behind so much of the violence that we see. We tend to live in a world where all violence takes place on the screen as if it were completely isolated from other events and there were no relationship between cause and effect. Yes, as a journalist I often covered events that are similar to the ones in the book and went to the places where the action in the book takes place. But it was precisely this sense that there was a logic behind violence and that to stop the violence that logic needed to be understood, that drove me to start writing this novel in the first place.


Amy Unger from Providence, RI: Hello, Mr. Dickey! What news sources do you regularly read to get the best international news?

Christopher Dickey: Of course, I keep track of the wire services, CNN and the French equivalent of it, as a kind of constant background to what I am doing all day long. The best single bit of "background noise" for news is probably the BBC. For more in-depth reporting one of the most interesting sources is the Foreign Broadcast Information Service in the United States and BBC Monitoring in the UK. These give you original documents and news reports and speeches from all over the world, unfiltered.


Lora from Madison, WI: Your intimate portrayal of Kurt in INNOCENT BLOOD conveys a deep understanding of why terrorists become terrorists. Taking this one step further, would you say that you understand why or how someone like Timothy McVeigh could happen?

Christopher Dickey: I think so. First of all, I think McVeigh is less in the tradition of the kinds of terrorists we came to know on the international scene in the 1970s and '80s, and more in the very American tradition of the "angry loner." In a real sense McVeigh is the spiritual heir to Lee Harvey Oswald. He took a sense of personal alienation and failure and made the government accountable for it. In the 1960s such men focused their anger on individual politicians. Today they tend to focus that anger on the government as a whole. The other important fact about Timothy McVeigh is that he had been to war and had seen how many people could be killed in the name of a "good cause." Once he joined his personal anger to the idea, in his own mind, that he was waging a personal war for a good cause, then it is not hard to understand how in his own head he could rationalize what he did.


Monroe from Cleveland, OH: What is your opinion of the isolationists who are bearing arms and fortifying themselves out in the middle of nowhere here in America? Are they a serious problem or threat to the United States?

Christopher Dickey: I think they are a threat when they are forced to interact with the American government, and ultimately they always are. They deny the responsibility or the authority of the government to effect their lives in any way, because they say it is a government that does not obey its own laws -- as they interpret them. The dangerous thing is that they hold their personal interpretation to be above all others, and this is a key element of fanaticism. Whether it is nationalist fanaticism, libertarian fanaticism, of religious fanaticism, the conviction that you have the right to kill because you are in direct touch with the Truth is extremely dangerous for your neighbors and the society in which you live.


Jeffrey from Syracuse, NY: I haven't read INNOCENT BLOOD yet, but I plan to order it. For Kurt's transformation from an American fighting for his country to a terrorist plotting to destroy the United States, was there one breaking point, one moment, or is it a slow process? Thank you for taking my question.

Christopher Dickey: There is a breaking point. But he arrives at it through a slow process. Kurt is searching for his identity. He is looking for a way to put value on his life and into his life. In a sense, this is the same spiritual search many Americans now find themselves pursuing. But in Kurt's case, each time he believes that he has found a place to be and a person to become -- in the army, with his fiancée, in the homeland of his parents -- that is taken away from him. That's why eventually, at his weakest moment, he is such a perfect tool for someone who understands his need and preaches the notion that violence can answer it.


Haggs from Westchester, NY: Mr. Dickey: Israel. Thursday's internationally distributed photograph of Arafat embracing one of the leaders of Hamas. Is the Middle East in more trouble now than ever? Are we going to see an all-out war? Or the continuation and escalation of the terrorist activities?

Christopher Dickey: The Middle East is in very grave difficulties right now and on the verge of violence such as we have not seen since the beginning of this decade. What was a peace process based on cooperation and a positive vision for the future has been turned by the acts of a few fanatics -- Yigal Amir, Rabin's assassin, being one of them -- into a process of confrontation, humiliation, and anger. I do not see any way out of the spiral toward greater violence unless the Israeli government changes its views about the nature of peace and Arafat changes his view that all power must be held in his own hands. We were supposed to be building trust in the Middle East these last five years. Now all we are building on both sides is hatred. Sorry I can't be more optimistic than that.


Lars from Washington, DC: Why do you think the terrorist Rashid has such an effect on Kurt? He certainly didn't seem as charismatic as these "cult leaders" usually are, just really pushy.

Christopher Dickey: Rashid is not a cult leader. He is more like an intelligence operative gone freelance, a case officer, if you will. I don't think he could affect large numbers of people, but he doesn't have to. He only needs to effect Kurt and two or three others to get the job done. The obvious parallel would be with Ramzi Yousef, who was able to pull together the completely incompetent conspirators planning to blow up the World Trade Center and actually carry out the plot.


Kevin from Boston, MA: What's the significance of the Advent calendar in INNOCENT BLOOD? It seemed to have a certain resonance with Kurt.

Christopher Dickey: It is a symbol of his childhood and his desire for discovery. Specifically, his search for faith and meaning in his life. But also, I personally have always loved Advent calendars, and it was one of those elements that seemed to introduce itself into the narrative without my planning or expecting that it would be there.


Brian Elliott from Portland, OR: Good morning -- or should I say, good evening to you Mr.Dickey -- Of all the terrorist attacks you've investigated, would you say these terrorists share similar traits? If so, what would these traits be?

Christopher Dickey: The trend, as is very well documented by Bruce Hoffman at the Center for the Study of Terrorism at St. Andrews University, Scotland, is toward an ever-greater religious component in terrorist activities. The point I was making earlier about fanaticism and the sense of being in touch with a personal Truth is a key element that members of the Aum cult in Japan, or McVeigh in Oklahoma, or Yousef in New York have in common. That's different from the secular political motivations and widespread organizations with government links that characterized terrorist groups in the 1970s and '80s.


Rich from Sayre, PA: What drew you to study and report on revolutions and revolutionaries?

Christopher Dickey: Initially it was the drama. The first revolutions I covered were in Central America, and I suppose I was infected to some extent with the left-wing romanticism common to a lot of people who graduated from college in the early 1970s. But that didn't last long. What came to fascinate me was precisely the causes and effects of the violence, and I actually thought that if I could reveal those causes and effects in all their details on both sides of the conflict without taking any ideological stand, then I would be helping somehow to reduce the violence that I saw in front of me every day. I can't say that I was successful. But that is still what I am trying to do.


Allen Faust from Charlottesville, VA: When questioned about the Japanese cult Aum, I remember that U.S. government officials explained that they weren't aware of Aum's plan for world domination because they were "under our radar." That scares me. How many terrorist groups are "under our radar"? How do they have access to all of this high-tech biochemical terrorist equipment? Thanks for taking my question, Mr. Dickey. I look forward to reading INNOCENT BLOOD.

Christopher Dickey: Until recently I would say almost all of them were "under our radar." Just as armies tend to fight the last war, intelligence services and the police tended to use models of terrorist activities without much relevance to the current battlefield. The most frightening thing about this is that the technology for murdering not only hundreds of people but thousands or hundreds of thousands is readily at hand in the form of homemade or inadequately protected biological and chemical agents. One reason the public and the police tend to miss so many dangers is that they tend to ignore terrorist plots that fail. But in the United States alone in 1995, three separate white supremacist organizations were discovered to be stockpiling ricing toxins capable of killing hundreds of people in very minute doses. One was even successful in ordering samples of bubonic plague. As luck would have it, all these plots were stopped, but we should not confuse good luck with good security.


Wendy from Michigan: Hello, Mr. Dickey. Will INNOCENT BLOOD be made into a movie? Thank you for taking my question.

Christopher Dickey: I don't know. Many people think it appropriate material for one. But the alchemy that Hollywood uses to concoct its formulas for moviemaking these days is utterly unpredictable. We'll see which of the pending offers comes through, and then we'll have to wait and see if it ever makes it to the screen.


Mark from New York City: I read this morning about the Pope's tour through Paris yesterday, and the mixed but generally positive reception he garnered from the young audience, assembled for World Youth Day (I believe). How much weight or reverence do you feel young people give to the Pope's message of diligence and deemphasis on material needs?

Christopher Dickey: Frankly, not a lot. I think that in the euphoria of the moment, many of the young people here would make pious and idealistic statements, but I do not expect that the lives of many of them will be transformed by their experiences in Paris this week. That said, people do want hope, and they do want direction, and young people today, particularly those in the West and in America who feel no great sense of threat from any outside source, no external factor to direct their lives and give them purpose, will search where they can for meaning. Those who find that meaning in mainstream religion are the lucky ones and help to build society. Those who find it in fanaticism are the ones who help to tear it apart.


Daniel from Springfield, VA: What's next for Christopher Dickey?

Christopher Dickey: I'm working on a memoir, which should be out late next spring, called THE SUMMER OF DELIVERANCE. It's basically about my father, the poet and novelist James Dickey, and our often painful relationship.


Joan from Amityville, NY: Bonjour, Christopher. Whom do you like to read? Do you have any literary role models?

Christopher Dickey: Yes. I guess at this point in one's career, the question is not whom you read, but whom you reread. And I tend to reread stylists whose essays are often as good as their fiction, and in some cases better. I love Graham Greene, at least up until the last decade of his career. He was writing about the kinds of places and the kinds of people that I know, in ways that taught me things I would never otherwise have suspected or expressed. Joan Didion is someone I idolize as a writer, and I've been lucky to be her friend as well. George Orwell, especially his four volumes of collected essays, is indispensible. I don't like Gore Vidal's novels, but I love his articles and essays. I guess I'd have to say that my father's work influenced me as well, but less through choice than through osmosis. There are also a few scenes in INNOCENT BLOOD, you might note, that are pretty obvious homages to his work.


Moderator: Thank you very much for joining us this afternoon, Mr. Dickey! Very interesting stuff! Any closing comments?

Christopher Dickey: Not really. I think the questions gave me a great opportunity to talk about the issues that were most important to me in this novel. But I'd also like to thank you, Elke, online for your patience and skill typing my responses. And barnesandnoble.com, of course, for giving me this opportunity to meet with so many people in so many places.


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