Writer’s note: We rate video games movies and albums on a 10-point scale these days. I’ll follow suit here too, with the following provision: every book I review will receive a minimum rating of 2.0—one point for having written a book, which I haven’t, and one point for having gotten that book published, which I also haven’t. After those concessions, the rest is up to the author and the editor.
‘Extraordinary Rendition’. I had to look that one up. It’s a good thing I did, because if I hadn’t, I’d have probably told you that it meant a really good cover song. Like the Johnny Cash version of Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down. Or the Johnny Cash version of anything, for that matter. But I digress.
Anyway—I found out that the term actually refers to the unlawful transfer of a prisoner by a government whose home country prohibits torture (like ours does) to a country whose government, well, doesn’t have such prohibitions (and which will likely take the initiative of… “interrogating” that prisoner on the behalf of that first nation– unofficially, of course). The government which initially captured the suspect might then be able to maintain a position against torture while stating that anything that happens to a prisoner while in foreign custody on foreign soil is not in the control of whichever government sent that prisoner, and so its hands are “officially” clean.
Extraordinary Rendition is, incidentally, also the title of the latest legal/political thriller by former defense attorney and current novelist Paul Batista.
Batista tells us the story of a renowned corporate attorney named Byron Carlos Johnson who, inexplicably, decides to defend a former New Jersey resident called Ali Hussein who stands accused of being a top Al-Qaeda money-man. A “Muhammad Madoff” if you will. All we are ever really told of him is that he was snatched up while on vacation in Germany some eight years before Johnson took him as a client, that the United States Government believes him to know the numbers and locations of many Al-Qaeda bank accounts, and that in the eight years he’s been kept in isolated captivity, he’s maintained that he has no knowledge of any of those things.
Ali Hussein’s guilt or innocence is never completely clarified. That goes for both Johnson and the reader. That might have been my favorite element of Johnson’s character—his tenacious representation of and belief in his client despite his never, ever being told the whole story. Or, I suspect, even half of it. Much of the time, Ali seems like an innocent victim. A patsy. But there are other times, maybe even more times than with Ali, that it seems like it is Byron Johnson who is the patsy, his willingness to trust exploited by nearly all who surround him.
I got the impression that the Byron Johnson character was molded, at least a little bit, after Batista himself. Or perhaps a version of himself Batista wonders if he might have been in similar circumstances as those with which he presents Johnson. I suppose we’d all like to think that we’d be as humbly steadfast as Byron Johnson, maintaining our integrity against all odds.
The story is fairly unpredictable, which is a good thing. It’s not especially relatable, but that’s because of the extraordinary nature of Batista’s protagonist, and that’s a good thing too.
That said, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies either, to paraphrase a song a like.
Rendition is a little bit of a slow-starter; Batista takes about twenty pages to really find his footing. The story is compelling—it really is—but there are times, especially early on, when Batista’s prose feels a bit forced. There were also grammatical and formatting errors throughout, not the least of which was the use of a c-cedilla (ç) instead of a dash about halfway through.
I wish Batista had been a little bit more withholding of certain story elements. I wish he’d have let me suspect certain things for just a little bit longer before repeatedly tipping his hand.
More than anything, though, I sincerely wish Mr. Batista had been assigned a better editor.
Instead, we are left with a quality story which doesn’t quite seem to fulfill its potential.
You can purchase Extraordinary Rendition from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, amongst other locations. The book is available now for Kindle, and it’s available for pre-order in paperback, which is scheduled to be released on May 1, 2013.
Official Score: 5.5/10
* A digital copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.