30 June 2009

Review and Interview: A World I Never Made by James LePore


Megan Nolan left her Vermont college after only a few weeks, running away to Europe to earn her living selling articles to American women's magazines. Learning how to become a journalist wasn't all that twelve years in Europe had taught Megan; she became an expert in manipulating rich men into becoming her sugar daddies, and she had the Swiss bank account to prove her success.

In the years after 9/11, Megan lost interest in writing fluff pieces and started engaging in serious research to learn more about the Muslim terrorist underground. When she met Abdel al-Lahani at a train station in Morocco, Megan felt as if she had hit the jackpot. Handsome, rich, and powerful, the Westernized Muslim could refresh her bank account while granting her access to important informants. Megan, who was always in control, had no reason to think that al-Lahani couldn't be played.

Just one year later, Pat Nolan, in a haze of shock and jet-lag, sat in a Paris police station reading his daughter's suicide note. The police were saying something about ovarian cancer, but Pat had no idea that Megan had been sick. When Detective Catherine Laurence pulled the sheet off the body, Pat gave a positive ID and asked that she be immediately cremated. But Pat Nolan had never seen the dead woman in his life.

A World I Never Made, is a fast-moving, double hide-and-seek game played out across two continents and involving police forces, terrorist groups, intelligence agencies, gypsies, and even the church. Westerners are sure Megan has been involved in recent terrorist attacks and hope to interrogate her; Muslim groups are sure she has sabotaged their plans and hope to kill her. Al-Lahani simply will not let a woman get the best of him.

From the false suicide note to a fortune-teller's prediction and a cryptic message from a young flower vendor, Pat is sure that he will be able to discover the fate of his daughter, if he can only find the clues, follow the trail, and stay alive. With the help of Detective Laurence, Pat begins his frantic search for the daughter he barely knows.

LePore has created a many-layered political thriller set within the world of Mideast terrorism. Although a few aspects of the plot were predictable, the overall arc of the story was not. The ending felt a bit rushed, but not enough to spoil the novel.

The descriptions of the people and places were vivid and believable. It is interesting that Megan Nolan, the central character of the novel, is an enigma—we aren't sure if we should hate her or pray for safety. Her father is no more transparent. Catherine Laurence, though, is somewhat disappointing. She is an experienced police detective; however, she makes several serious blunders that don't seem to ring true. In a couple of cases, I wondered why those actions were not made by Pat or another nonprofessional.

I recommend A World I Never Made as a promising debut novel. (Note: I read an ARC, and changes may have been made before publication.) LePore is already working on a second book.

Three Questions for James LePore

BFR: At first I was impressed that you had made several of the officers and investigators in the book women. But then I started thinking about the women in the novel, and I realized that not very many of them are warm and caring individuals. And several characters are motherless. Were you aware that you had mothers die young and that, except for Catherine, most of the women seem to have a low opinion of men or are just simply not nice (like Lalla)?

JP: I set out to make Megan not likable, but with the potential to be a true heroine, which I think/hope she proved to be at the end. Lalla I wanted to come across as a zealous accomplice to terror, a true believer who would do anything for Lahani and her husband. There was no intent to put the women in the story into any particular category. Genevieve LeGrand gave in to vanity but stood tall when she had to. Charles Raimondi was a true jerk. I see people’s flaws as not related to their gender but to their humanity.

BFR: From the flower seller we meet early in the novel to Annabella Jeritza, Francois Duval, and even the church, fate, fortune-telling, second sight, and miracles all play a part in the book. Are you a believer in fortune-telling and miracles?

JP: I believe that there is a higher power that plays a role in shaping our destinies that takes many forms, some obscure, some obvious. And yes, I do believe in miracles. You and I are miracles. A tree is a miracle. We take miracles for granted because we see them every day, but that doesn’t make them less miraculous.

BFR: You make references to several well-known terrorist attacks that have taken place in recent history. Is this novel meant to be your interpretation of the people behind those events or have you simply used history as a frame for your book?

JP: The answer is both. We’ll never know who exactly was behind many of the terrorist attacks that have taken place over the last 30 or so years. There has been mention of the Al Haramain Brigade and Salafist Jihad in connection with the bombings in Casablanca in 2003 and other attacks. Nineteen of the 21 9/11 terrorists were Saudi Arabian. I used history as a frame for fiction, but I tried to keep it close to the factual record so that the reader could identify the events of the novel with his or her understanding of world events.

Published by The Story Plant, 2009
ISBN-13: 9780981608723
Challenges: A-Z Author, 100+, 999
YTD: 52
Rating: B-


Margot 6/30/09, 6:44 AM  

Interesting concept for a novel. Sounds like something behind the scenes of headlines. I like that. I also like that the characters are flawed - like real people. Good interview too.

caite 6/30/09, 8:18 AM  

you know what? you need to have a giveaway for this one! lol
great review and interview.

bermudaonion 6/30/09, 10:14 AM  

Wow, you asked the author some tough questions! Great insight on your part.

Anonymous,  6/30/09, 10:49 AM  

I agree with Kathy- those questions were tough! Great review and interview. It sounds thrilling.

THanks so much, Beth, for all the time and effort you put into reading A World I Never Made!

Julie P. 6/30/09, 9:36 PM  

Great review and great interview.

Nise' 6/30/09, 10:46 PM  

Ditto on the interview questions! I still go back and forth on the outcome for Megan.

Melody 6/30/09, 10:53 PM  

I've heard a lot of good reviews about this book!

Thanks for the awesome review and interview!!

The Reading Momster 7/1/09, 1:50 AM  

Sounds really interesting! and I really like the questions you have asked :)
And the author has answered them very well!

Anonymous,  7/1/09, 3:08 PM  

I loved your question about the women! This book is on my wish list.

Literary Feline 7/2/09, 11:24 AM  

Great review, Beth. I would like to have known Catherine better. I think there was more to her than met the eye.

Thoughts of Joy 7/3/09, 8:18 AM  

I really like the detailed questions. :)

Elizabeth 7/4/09, 2:48 PM  

Really good review! I enjoyed this novel when I read it earlier in the year.

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