"The Tenth Circle"
Reviewed by Allan Tennent
Posted November 21, 2013
A colony disappears in America in the 16th century, a ship
is found abandoned in the Bay of Gibraltar in the 19th
century, a series of apparent terrorist attacks take place
in 21st century America, could there be a connection; and
if so what? These are among the questions that secret agent
Blaine McCracken, fresh from his latest exploits in Iran,
has to answer in Jon Land's latest novel, THE TENTH CIRCLE.
A mixture of historical whodunit come what happened and
modern day adventure story, THE TENTH CIRCLE shows what can
happen when any form of religious extremism takes root in
people's minds, but it is also a slam-bang journey from
Iran through America with the hero using all his hard-
earned combat and undercover skills to stay alive. Plenty
of action and use of high tech weaponry helps Blaine
McCracken and his Native American comrade and old friend
Wareagle to search for the answers to what happened to the
Roanoake colony and how someone is planning to the use this
knowledge to wreak havoc in the modern day world. This will
be a welcome addition to fans of the previous Blaine
McCracken races to stop a terrorist attack on the State of
the Union speech and confronts an ancient weapon of
Blaine McCracken has just pulled off the impossible in
Iran, ridding the world of a terrible threat—only to return
home to face another. The reverend Jeremiah Rule spews
hateful rhetoric and inflames half the world, setting off a
series of devastating terrorist attacks. Rule, though,
isn’t acting alone. A shadowy cabal is pulling his strings,
unaware that they are creating a monster who’s about to
spin free of their control.
Finding himself a wanted man, McCracken must draw on skills
and allies both old and new to get to the heart of a plan
aimed at unleashing no less than the tenth circle of hell.
A desperate chase across country and continent takes him
into the past, where the answers he needs hide in some of
history’s greatest unsolved mysteries. As the clock ticks
down to an unthinkable maelstrom, McCracken and his trusty
sidekick Johnny Wareagle fight to save the United States
from a war that the country didn’t even know it was
fighting – but that it may well lose.
The Negev Desert, Israel; the present
“We have incoming, General! Anti-missile batteries are
General Yitzak Berman focused his gaze on the desperate
scenario unfolding in amazingly realistic animation on the
huge screen before him. Eight missiles fired from Iran sped
toward all major population centers of Israel in a perfect
geometric pattern, about to give the nation’s Arrow
anti-missile system its greatest test yet.
“Sir,” reported the head of the analysts squeezed into the
underground bunker from which Israel maintained command and
control, “initial specs indicate the size, weight and
sourcing of the missiles . . .”
“Proceed,” the general said when the analyst stopped to
“They’re nuclear, sir, in the fifty kiloton range.”
Another young man picked up from there. “Jerusalem, Tel
Aviv, Haifa, the Mediterranean coast, the Sinai, our primary
airfields . . .” He looked back toward Sherman. “And here,
“Anti-missile batteries are launching!” a new voice blared
through the strangely dim lighting that seemed to flutter as
the missiles drew closer.
And Sherman watched the animated simulation of dozens and
dozens of Israeli Arrow rockets, along with larger American
Patriots, shooting upward in line with the incoming
missiles. Four hits were scored in the maelstrom of
animated smoke bursts, more rockets launched to chase down
the remaining four nukes that had survived the fist salvo.
“We have two more confirmed downed!” yet another young voice
But the bunker fell silent as the sophisticated animation
continued to follow two surviving Iranian missiles as they
streaked toward Tel Aviv and Haifa.
“Schmai Israel, hallileh hoseh,” one of the young voices
began, reciting the prayer softly as the missiles’ arc
turned downward, on a direct course to their targets with
nothing left to stop their flight.
“Order our fighters holding at their failsafe positions to
launch their attacks,” instructed Berman. “Destroy Iran.”
He’d barely finished when two flashes burst out from the
animated screen, bright enough to force several squeezed
into the bunker to shield their eyes. As those flashes
faded amid the stunned silence and odor of stale
perspiration hanging in the air, the bunker’s regular
lighting snapped back on.
“This concludes the simulation,” a mechanical voice droned.
“Repeat, this concludes the simulation.”
With that, a bevy of Israeli officials, both civilian and
military, emerged from the rear-most corner of the bunker,
all wearing dour expressions.
Israel’s female defense minister stepped forward ahead of
the others. “Your point is made, General,” she said to
Berman. “Not that we needed any further convincing.”
“I’m glad we all agree that the Iranian nuclear threat can
no longer be tolerated,” Berman, the highest-ranking member
of the Israeli military left alive who’d fought in the
Six-Day War, told them. “We’ve been over all this before.
The difference is we’re now certain our defenses cannot
withstand an Iranian attack, leaving us with casualty
estimates of up to a million dead and two million wounded,
many of them gravely. Fifty simulations, all with results
similar to the ones you have just witnessed.” He hesitated,
eyes hardened through two generations of war boring into the
defense minister’s. “I want your formal authorization.”
“To destroy the Iranian nuclear complex at Natanz.”
Israel’s defense minister started to smile, then simply
shook her head. “We’ve been over this before, a hundred
times. Our army can’t do it, our air force can’t do it, our
commandos can’t do it, and the Americans are saying the very
same thing from their end. You want my authorization to do
the impossible? You’ve got it. Just don’t expect any
backup, extraction, or political cover.”
Yitzak Berman returned his gaze to the wall-sized screen
where animated versions of Tel Aviv and Haifa had turned
dark. “The man I have in mind won’t need of any of that.”
“Did you say man?”
"We are descending through a million tons of solid rock,"
the Islamic Republic of Iran's Minister of Energy, Ali Akbar
Hosseini, told the filmmaker squeezed in the elevator with
both his equipment and the trio of Revolutionary Guardsmen.
"A technological achievement in its own right. You
understand the great task you've been entrusted to perform."
"Just as you must understand I'm the best at my job, just
like your scientists are at theirs," said the bearded,
award-winning filmmaker Hosseini knew as Hakeem Najjar.
Najjar's appearance was exactly as depicted in photographs,
save for the scar through his left eyebrow the minister did
not recall. He was dressed casually in dark cargo pants and
a long-sleeve cotton shirt rolled up at the sleeves, bulky
clothing that hid what was clearly a V-shaped, well-muscled
frame beneath. "I was told I'd be given total access to the
"And you will, at least those parts deemed appropriate by me."
"That wasn't part of the deal. It never is with my work."
"This is a different kind of opportunity."
The elevator started to slow.
"Then you should have gotten a filmmaker more adept at
wedding videos," Najjar snapped. "Perhaps we've both made a
"You are about to see what few men ever have," Hosseini
continued, wearing a fashionable suit instead of a military
uniform. "And it will be your blessed privilege to chronicle
it for the world to see when the time is right. You call
that a mistake?"
"You chose me because I'm the best. I ask only that you
treat me that way."
"I could have retained a simple videographer for this
assignment," Hosseini said, his shoulders stiffening. "I
chose you because I wanted something that would stand the
test of history. This will be my legacy, my contribution to
our glorious Republic, and I want it to be celebrated, not
just appreciated, a century from now. I want anyone who
watches to see not just a place, but a point in history that
changed the world forever. An awesome responsibility I'm
entrusting you with."
"I look forward to exceeding your expectations."
Hosseini's eyes fell on the bulky equipment lying at the
filmmaker's feet: a camera, portable lights, and a quartet
of shoe box–sized rechargeable batteries to supply power.
"Others I've worked with have turned to much smaller cameras
for video, even ones that look like they only take pictures."
"And how did their work turn out?" asked the filmmaker, his
tone still biting.
"Acceptable, but not impressive. This assignment clearly
required something more, a case I had to make to the
Council's finance board to justify your fee."
"If you aren't satisfied with what I produce for you, you
owe nothing. I'll return my fee to the Council personally."
"Both of us know that will not be necessary. Both of us know
you will produce something that will stand the test of time
through the ages and serve both of us well," Hosseini said
to the man he'd personally selected for the job.
"I value your regard and the confidence you have in me,"
Najjar said more humbly in Farsi.
Then he slung the camera over his shoulder and scooped up
the batteries and portable lights in his grasp, beckoning
the minister to exit ahead of him.
"After you," said Blaine McCracken.
Washington, DC: Two months earlier
"You're kidding, right?" Blaine McCracken said after the
Israeli he knew only as "David" finished.
"You come highly recommended, Mr. McCracken. Back home
you're considered a legend."
"Another word for dinosaur."
"But far from extinct. And my American friends tell me
you're the only one they believe can get this done."
"Meaning I'd have to succeed where two governments have failed."
David shrugged, the gesture further exaggerating the size of
his neck, which seemed a stubby extension of his shoulders
and trapezius muscles. He wasn't a tall man but was
unnaturally broad through the upper body. McCracken couldn't
make out his eyes well in the darkness, but imagined them to
be furtive and noncommittal.
They'd met at the Observation Deck of the Washington
Monument. It was closed to the public for repairs
indefinitely, but still accessible by workmen, though not at
night, always McCracken's favorite time to view Washington.
He liked imagining what was going on in offices where lights
still burned, that plans were being hatched and fates
determined. There was so much about the city he hated, but
plenty from which he couldn't detach himself. In the vast
majority of those offices, officials were trying to do good;
at least, they believed they were.
McCracken found himself wondering which of those offices
David had come here from; it would have been State or
Defense in the old days, across the river in Langley just as
often. These days it was Homeland Security, the catchall and
watchword that got people nodding in silence, with its
offices spread out all over the city proper, it was
responsible for an untold number of the lights that still
A few work lamps provided the only illumination inside the
gutted Observation Deck, riddled with a musty basement-like
smell of old, stale concrete and wood rot mixed with the
fresh lumber and sawdust that covered the exposed floor like
a floating rug. David had sneezed a few times upon first
entering, passing it off as allergies.
"It's not that we've failed," David told him, "it's that all
the plans we've considered have been rejected out of hand.
We've come to you for something nontraditional, something no
"You've got a lot of faith in me."
"If anyone can do it, it's you. Otherwise, we will have no
choice but to try something that is doomed to fail and
perhaps even make things worse. But our hands are tied. With
Iran so close to getting their bomb, the choice is gone."
"Your name's not really David, is it?" McCracken asked the
"Why would you think that?"
"Because the last few times I've worked with your country,
my contacts were named David too. A reference to David and
A flicker of a smile crossed the Israeli's lips. "I'm told
you had a plan."
"No, what I've got is an idea. It's risky, dangerous,
and I haven't even broached it to the powers at be here."
"Because you don't think they'd be interested?"
"Because they haven't asked." McCracken looked out through
the window at the twinkling office lights again, already
fewer of them than just a few minutes before, imagining the
kind of things being discussed after office hours had
concluded. "The only time my phone rings these days is when
the SEALs or Delta have already passed on the mission, with
good reason this time."
"We're asking you," said David, "not them. And we'll provide
you with the right resources, any resources you require."
McCracken gave David a longer look, the younger man's thick
nest of curly hair making him seem vulnerable and innocent
at the same time though neither was true. "Tell me you're
ready to fight fire with fire. Tell me that's what you meant
about making the right resources available."
David seemed to grasp his meaning immediately. "And if we are?"
Natanz, Iran: The present
McCracken lugged the equipment from the elevator, careful to
show strain and exertion on his features to avoid raising
any suspicions in Hosseini. The hall before them was
brightly lit, as clean and sterile as a hospital's. The air
smelled of nothing—not antiseptic, not solvent, not
fresh tile. Nothing. The lighting looked unbalanced, harsh
in some places and dull in others.
The new Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's successor,
had made no secret of his desire to chronicle Iran's
greatest technological achievement ever. When the time was
right, he wanted the world to see the true scope of his
country's accomplishment, so long hidden behind innuendo and
subterfuge. Like the mullahs themselves, he was at heart a
braggart obsessed with cementing his own legacy in a way
history could not deny.
The true Hakeem Najjar, the award-winning Iranian filmmaker
chosen for that task, was virtually the same height and
weight as McCracken and the two men bore more than a passing
resemblance to each other, right up to the scruffiness of
their tightly trimmed beards. Of course, the plan was not
without its flaws. Most notably, McCracken had no idea when
Najjar would be summoned to capture the Natanz facility in
all its glory. Based on the current timetable for the
Iranians' ability to generate enough fissionable material
from the refuse of their vast centrifuges, though, he
guessed no more than six months.
It turned out to be only two.
The filmmaker Najjar was already under twenty-four-hour
surveillance by Israeli Mossad agents long entrenched within
Iranian society. Barely an hour after the filmmaker was
contacted by Minister Hosseini's office on extremely short
notice, McCracken boarded a private jet with a makeup
specialist on board to finish the job of matching his
appearance as closely as possible to Najjar's. The result,
after a laborious process that took much of the flight,
exceeded even his expectations. The lone oversight had been
not to disguise the scar through McCracken's left eyebrow
from a wayward bullet decades before. Although Minister
Hosseini had clearly noticed it, he seemed unbothered by its
While Najjar waited in his apartment for his government car
to arrive, a fresh Mossad team, just in the country, entered
his apartment by using a key fit to the specifications of
his lock based on the serial number. The filmmaker, who was
still packing, was unconscious in seconds, with McCracken
ready in his stead, equipment in hand, as soon as the car
arrived for the first leg of his journey.
Once out of the elevator, McCracken knew he was about to
encounter plenty not mentioned in David's reports on the
structure and its schematics. Israel's intelligence on the
Natanz facility was an amalgamation of satellite
reconnaissance; prisoner and defector interrogations; and
four separate brilliantly crafted infiltrations. Each of
these had revealed the particulars of at least a section of
the facility, but even taken in sum, they didn't offer a
thorough rendering of all of it.
The assembled intelligence did reveal a sprawling
single-level underground facility. The original plans had
called for multiple levels, but this had proven too onerous
from both construction and security standpoints. Natanz had
been chosen for the site of the plant specifically because
of the heavy layers of limestone and shale beneath which it
would be contained, along with an underlayer of nearly
impenetrable volcanic rock formed in prehistoric times.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the nuclear generating
plant that sat at ground level was not positioned directly
over the underground facility at all; rather, it served as
effective camouflage for the vast tunneling efforts that had
forged Natanz from the side instead of from above. The
facility was laid out roughly in a square, the size of six
football fields laid next to one another, and featured the
sophisticated technology required to enrich uranium along
with the centrifuges responsible for generating it, a
process that undoubtedly included the massive pumps and
water systems required for cooling.
But the very features that made Natanz impenetrable to an
attack from above made it vulnerable to what McCracken was
planning from within.
David versus Goliath indeed.
"One more thing before we get started," Hosseini said,
opening a door McCracken hadn't noticed before. "If you'd
join me inside here . . ."
It was a locker room, more or less, each open cubicle
featuring an orange radiation suit and wrist monitor hanging
from a hook inside.
"Standard procedure," the minister explained. "The lightest
weight suit manufactured anywhere. You slip it on right over
your clothes," he continued, starting to do just that himself.
McCracken followed in step. Modern, sophisticated nuclear
plants like this were hardly prone to leaks, so the donning
of such protective material could only mean Hosseini meant
what he said about assembling a complete picture of one of
the world's most secret facilities.
"Come," the minister beckoned, "let us witness the means by
which we will destroy Israel."
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