The Aden Effect: A Connor Stark Novel

  • Published
  • By Claude Berube; Reviewed by Maj Timothy G. Heck, USMC

The Aden Effect: A Connor Stark Novel by Claude Berube. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2012. ISBN: 9781612511982.

Claude Berube’s The Aden Effect is a fast-paced yet intellectual novel featuring Somali pirates, Chinese geopolitical machinations, and duplicity at the highest levels of American power. Starring Connor Stark, a semi-disgraced and cashiered naval officer, Berube’s writing and style echoes some of the early works of the late thriller writer Clive Cussler. Like Cussler’s Dirk Pitt, Berube’s Stark is smart, worldly, daring, and always has a plan when everyone around him is losing their head. Called out of exile to solve a diplomatic crisis in Yemen, Stark deftly moves from sea to land and back, always in command, always one step ahead of his ever-increasing enemies. The book works its way through a tangle of seemingly unrelated threads to a thoroughly dramatic conclusion. The difference between Cussler and Berube, however, is that The Aden Effect fits soundly in today’s current geopolitical climate. A central theme of the book is the return to great-power competition, whereas Cussler’s villains were more fantastic in nature.

Berube’s résumé for writing such a thriller is impressive. Currently at the United States Naval Academy as the director of the academy’s museum, he is also the host of the “Preble Hall” podcast and a contributing editor at War on the Rocks. Berube also edited Maritime Private Security: Market Responses to Piracy, Terrorism and Waterborne Security Risks in the 21st Century, published by Routledge in 2012. He is no stranger to naval intelligence or military operations in the Middle East. His personal experiences show as he adroitly writes about the backwaters of the Gulf of Aden, private security contractors, and risks to America’s stature in the world.

The book’s main protagonist is an idealized naval officer, despite his checkered past. He is confident, well-educated, and decisive—traits that help him thrive in a complex environment. Stark’s independence and success are aided by his command of Arabic, relationships from a previous attaché tour, and connections to the current ambassador. The reader can easily envision Stark operating in Yemen as he does, especially if traditional antiterrorism/force protection concerns are overlooked. Berube’s writing keeps the reader engaged, and while there are hints of the conclusion, when it arrives, it is neither telegraphed nor heavy-handed.

Berube’s understanding of the Department of State’s hierarchy and requirements, however, are somewhat less in-depth. His secondary character, Diplomatic Security Special Agent Damien Golzari, operates well outside the scope of a traditional law enforcement officer or member of the Foreign Service. The result is a well-educated, well-spoken, well-dressed maverick with a diplomatic passport operating seemingly without supervision or support. Putting those inaccuracies aside, however, Golzari is an engaging character who is a well-matched, if somewhat reluctant, partner for the hero Stark.

The novel starts aboard a hijacked Russian supertanker in the western Indian Ocean. The lead pirate, Faisal, orders one of his men’s relatives to find and kill Connor Stark in remote Scotland. Divided into three parts, the book shifts with rapidity from Maine to the United Kingdom to Washington, DC to Yemen to the wardroom of a guided missile cruiser on patrol in the Gulf of Aden. Seemingly disparate threads are woven together as Stark and Golzari pursue the murderer of an American college student, Somali pirates, and terrorist financiers all while battling each other and the Washington bureaucracy.

The book asks several challenging questions about American stature in the world. The main concern, unusual for an adventure novel set in the Middle East but nonetheless prescient, is China. Given China’s expanding Belt and Road Initiative, the use of Yemen as a proxy between the United States and China seems particularly timely, even if the reader is expecting more interference from Iran. Midway through the book, Berube uses Golzari to ask the question all empires must ask: when will this end? “Was the United States another Rome, doomed to suffer a similar fate? Would Washington be sacked from without or from within?” (129). This is indeed one of the great questions of world history—one faced by all great powers.

For those looking for a political-military thriller that is heavy on action, engages significant geopolitical issues, and has enough plot twists to keep a reader interested, The Aden Effect is well worth its quick read. Coming in at under 260 pages, Berube has woven a tightly written story that does not skimp on action or larger questions about America, the Middle East, and the return to great-power competition (GPC). Written before GPC was the Department of Defense’s paradigm or the Yemeni Civil War had commenced, The Aden Effect is a strong start to the series.

Maj Timothy G. Heck, USMC



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