I could think of no better to review The Man Who Killed Osama by George P. Matheos than RPCV Darcy Munson Meijer. Darcy currently lives with her family in the United Arab Emirates and teaches English at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi.
Reviewed by Darcy Munson Meijer (Gabon 1982-84)
I liked this lively book, though Matheos’ style took getting used to. Some clever American writer had to take on the woeful story of America’s obsession with Osama bin Laden, and Matheos does it with humor and suspense.
The Man Who Killed Osama follows Jake and Jo Ann, naïve newlyweds, from Chicago to Beirut and back, as they become involved in tracking down America’s Public Enemy #1. On the way, Matheos weaves subplots that add depth and suspense.
Matheos opens the story with one of Jake’s nightmares, a recurrent theme. He is a matador before an enthusiastic crowd, trying to kill . . . a wild boar. In this dream he is thwarted. In another dream, he is the prototypical man in the wilderness — killing and eating a wolf, raw, with his bare hands. In others, he’s a scared child, threatened by unworldly foes. We soon learn that Jake has a sad past and burns for the chance to prove himself. He is also vain, Republican and a bit dumb: the perfect hero for this plot.
On the train to work, Jake introduces himself to Jo Ann, the beautiful fellow-commuter he has long admired. They fall in love instantly, and as they move into each other’s lives, we learn about Jo Ann’s equally patchy family. They get married, and on their honeymoon to Lebanon, “accidentally” run into Jo Ann’s gorgeous, long-lost mother, Arlene. Back in Chicago, corrupt Captain Darnelle of the Chicago Police Department is brutally murdered. These are the two threads that drive the plot of The Man Who Killed Osama.
Jake will have run-ins with four Osamas before the story is over. I will not divulge how this is possible. It is worth your time to find out for yourself.
Except for a few scenes that drag, Matheos weaves and balances his subplots well. Some are part and parcel of all good mysteries, like the inter-agency squabbles of the bumbling and corrupt Chicago police department, the FBI and CIA, Homeland Security and the Israeli Secret Service. Other subplots are Matheos’ concoctions, and I generally liked the well-timed scene changes.
I found only a few points to criticize in The Man Who Killed Osama. I was not convinced for the first half of the book that events would turn out logically. Matheos’ grammar is not always perfect, and I feared that he would not be able to bring to completion all the plots he had introduced. A few paragraphs started out one way and finished another, leaving me scratching my head and hoping to find clarity further on. However, in the last third of the book Matheos pulled it all together, to a walloping finale.
My second criticism is about realism: I didn’t find the relationship between Jo Ann and her mother to be entirely credible. How could the two, separated for almost 30 years, love and trust each other instantly? And how could such a naïve twit as Jo Anne demand that her worldly mother return to Chicago to live with her and Jake - and be obeyed? Despite her unsavory entanglements, Arlene had built an enviable life for herself in Lebanon. She showed mettle. She was too mature to be bossed around.
The Man Who Killed Osamawas, on the whole, a pleasure to read. I currently live and work in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, and my family and I have visited several countries in the region. I find the Middle East fascinating, and I appreciated Matheos’ familiarity with the politics, landscape and history of the region. Matheos has also written Mirages of the Rub al Khali, the famed wilderness on the Arabian Peninsula.
Darcy Munson Meijer was a TEFL teacher with the Peace Corps in Gabon, Africa from 1982-84. She has edited the Gabon Letter, the newsletter for the Friends of Gabon, for the past six years. This is the sixth book she has reviewed for the Peace Corps Writers website, and she has published two essays on the same site: one on living in Vietnam and another on living in the U.A.E. She lives with her family in the United Arab Emirates and teaches English at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi.