Early in “The Intercept,” the serviceable debut thriller from “Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf, Osama bin Laden appears, reproaching his followers for recent failures.
“Bomb this. Bomb that,” he scolds the men, sounding like an ad executive in a branding meeting. “Nothing original, nothing intelligent. ... We have failed to innovate.”
There’s a boldness in ventriloquizing such a figure, but if you’re going to do it, you’d better do it convincingly. You fear the book will never recover. But recover it does, for long stretches. Part police procedural and part ticking-bomb thriller, “The Intercept” jumps years ahead to offer us a New York City under imminent threat. In the days leading up to a Fourth of July dedication ceremony at the completed Freedom Tower, a group of passengers and a flight attendant prevent a hijacking, skyrocketing them to instant celebrity as “the Six.”
Jeremy Fisk of the intelligence division of the New York City police comes to believe that the hijacking was merely a diversion and determines to uncover the real target.
For the first third of the book, it feels as if we are embarking on a brainy, topical thriller. The hybrid cop-intel lingo and new technologies provide a sense of insiderdom. Wolf also has fun with petty intrigues and jealousies among the Six.
Soon, the gears shift noisily, as the novel gives way to the suspect hunts, near misses and red herrings more at home in a standard detective novel. Regular thriller readers will identify both the “mole” and the target early.
Given Wolf’s facility with even thumbnail sketches of minor characters and a particularly poignant study of a lonely American woman turned martyr, Fisk is a remarkably featureless hero, which makes the romantic relationship meant to undergird the tale feel superfluous. Most critically, however, Wolf cannot pull off a vital set piece toward the end, which lacks both emotional heft and genuine suspense.