Minute Zero: A Novel. Todd Moss. Penguin Group (USA). September 2015. 368 pp. ISBN#: 9780399168680.
Judd Ryker has given up the life of an academic and become a State Department troubleshooter. He’s come up with a theory of action called Minute Zero, which is a plan to take action quickly in the moments of a country’s chaotic crisis. It’s a plan which gives control to American policy and mandates immediate action. While that theory and its subsequent program worked well previously (see The Golden Hour by the same author), times have changed. America’s State Department is now reacting to a diminishing economy and is looking to make budget cuts. Judd is told he has forty-eight hours to prove his theory and program again or his program will be cut. His wife and other colleagues are supportive, even insistent that he take on this new challenge which involves elections in Zimbabwe in forty-eight hours, even less by the time he gets there!
Winston Tinotenda has ruled Zimbabwe through six elections. Now he is running against a woman lawyer, Gugu Mutonga, but it’s far from a fair election. Indeed Tinotenda has child and adult soldiers who literally walk into the election booth to ensure that the people vote for him. Violence against the opposition is the norm but ironically there is no proof by which he can be incriminated by foreign governments or the United Nations. Money is funneled to both candidates from powerful groups inside and outside Zimbabwe. Judd’s wife is not the agricultural water researcher and mother she claims to be, and the gradual revelation of her more important role is stunning!
Judd’s job is to monitor and report on fair elections but he is rather simplistic in thinking it’s so easy. He really doesn’t even seem sure his own theories about Minute Zero will work here so entrenched is the corruption and military muscle running the government and elections in Zimbabwe. Add to the mix a mysterious massacre occurring years ago and a diplomat who believes it has something to do with a secret mine.
One has a hard time knowing who is honest and who is deceptive. Little by little Judd brings together a team who will relentlessly expose all hidden agendas and put broken pieces of the puzzle together, but not before much violence, threats and false promises are made to the people of Zimbabwe, America and even England.
Minute Zero… is a nail-biting, tension ridden novel that will delight all who love the political and international thriller genres. The plot is finely constructed and contains many elements of reality as well. What a movie this would make! Nicely crafted, Todd Moss!