L.B.: This is London

L.B.: This is London November 4, 2005

Left Behind, pp. 171-186

Jerry Jenkins sets the tone for Chapter 10 with a Bulwer-Lytton-worthy opening sentence:

Cameron Williams convinced himself he should not call his and Dirk Burton's mutual friend at Scotland Yard before leaving New York.

This chapter features Jenkins doing his best impersonation of Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum: Late-night globetrotting flights, coded phone conversations, a rendezvous in a seedy London pub — all presented with that unique Jerry Jenkins flair.

Buck is headed to London to talk to Alan Tompkins, a "midlevel operative" at Scotland Yard. (DCI Tennison, this is MLO Tompkins …) He doesn't call Tompkins on the phone from New York because he's afraid someone might be listening in. So Buck flies to London, checks into a hotel, and then calls Tompkins on the phone.

Buck took both his real and his phony passport and visa — a customary safety precaution — caught a late flight to London out of La Guardia [sic] Friday night, and arrived at Heathrow Saturday morning. He checked into the Tavistock Hotel and slept until midafternoon. Then he set out to find the truth about Dirk's death. He started by calling Scotland Yard and asking for his friend …

We'll forgive Buck for not sleeping on the plane, considering what happened the last time he did that. Buck never seems to think about that, however, which is strange. If your week began on an overnight flight to London and that flight was interrupted and rerouted to Chicago due to the still-unexplained disappearance of some 2 billion people, followed by scores of plane crashes around the world, rail disasters and untold death and mayhem, then you might take a moment to reflect on that a few days later as you once again boarded an overnight flight to London. Buck doesn't.

In fact, as he arrives in London and begins his investigation of Dirk's supposed suicide, there's no sign that anything at all unusual had happened earlier that week. London seems utterly unaffected by the calamity that turned New York City into a postapocalyptic disaster zone. The entire Buck/Alan storyline, in fact, seems like it's occurring before the disappearances.

One way of reading this would be to interpret it as a condemnation of the Anglican Church and UK Christianity in general. The C of E, LaHaye and Jenkins might be saying, is so thoroughly secularized that no one in England would be among the disappeared — that the country wouldn't even seem to notice the disappearances had occurred.

This would be a slap not only at the Anglicans, but also at England's vibrant evangelical community. Evangelical Christianity in the UK is quite different from its Americanized version. British evangelicalism traces back to the Wesleys and never abandoned the Wesleyan concern for the poor. And, since they're not American, they never began to confuse America with the kingdom of God, and thus have not conflated their faith with a reactionary, uber-patriotic politics. Nor have they been caught up in some of the uniquely American heresies that characterize evangelical Christianity on this side of the Atlantic — such as young-earth creationism and, well, premillennial dispensationalism. British evangelicals have even been known to drink beer. For all these reasons, L&J probably don't consider these British evangelicals to be "true Christians," so they probably would get left behind along with the Anglicans.

But there's another, more likely, explanation for the strange disconnect between the spy-thriller storyline in this chapter and the disaster-movie storyline that went before it: Jenkins is a Bad Writer who pays no attention to continuity. The earlier chapters were about plane crashes and disappearances. This chapter is about something else, so he abruptly drops all that other stuff.

This disregard for continuity makes it difficult to read Left Behind as a single, coherent narrative. It forces the reader to regard the text as a collection of disparate, discrete stories — some of which apply to one set of storylines, others of which apply to another set. This is, of course, exactly how dispensationalists read the Bible. (It's a complex, difficult system, but it allows you to pretend that the Sermon on the Mount doesn't apply to you.)

Alan and Buck, Jenkins assures us, are old pals who get together, along with Dirk Burton, whenever Buck is in London. You'd think Buck might have Alan's direct number, then, but let that pass. Buck is worried that the nefarious, powerful people who killed Dirk might be listening in on his phone call to Alan. "He tried to communicate to Tompkins in such a way that Alan would catch on quickly and not give away that they were friends — in case the line was tapped."

What follows is Buck's idea of a non-suspicious sounding phone call:

"Mr. Tompkins, you don't know me, but my name is Cameron Williams of Global Weekly." Before Alan could laugh and greet his friend, Buck quickly continued, "I'm here in London to do a story preliminary to the international monetary conference at the United Nations."

Alan sounded suddenly serious. "How can I help you, sir? What does that have to do with Scotland Yard?"

"I'm having trouble locating my interview subject, and I suspect foul play."

"And your subject?"

"His name is Burton, Dirk Burton. He works at the exchange."

"Let me do some checking and call you back."

It's hard to imagine a more suspicious-sounding phone call.

[We're covering an entire chapter this week — the rest is in the jump.]

Buck meets Alan "just inside the vestibule at Scotland Yard" and they drive furtively to "a dark pub a few miles away." Once there, Alan urges Buck to go home and forget he ever knew Dirk Burton. Dirk, he says, was On To Something. He Knew Too Much and so he was killed.

"Cameron, you know what this is about."

"I don't!"

"Come, come, man. Dirk was a conspiracy theorist, always sniffing around Todd-Cothran's involvement with international money men, his role in the three-currency conference, even his association with your Stonagal chap."

"Alan, there are books about this stuff. People make a hobby of ascribing all manner of evil to the Tri-Lateral Commission [sic], the Illuminati, even the Freemasons, for goodness sake. Dirk thought Todd-Cothran and Stonagal were part of something he called the Council of Ten or the Council of Wise Men. So what? It's harmless."

"But when you have an employee, admittedly several levels removed from the head of the exchange, trying to connect his boss to conspiracy theories, he has a problem."

Buck sighed. "So he gets called on the carpet, maybe he gets fired. But tell me how he gets dead or pushed to suicide."

This is an odd bit of inoculation. End Times enthusiasts often wind up embracing weird conspiracy theories about the Trilateral Commission and the Illuminati. L&J poke fun at this tendency, even as they describe their own conspiracy theory involving something called the Council of Ten.

Alan goes on to explain why he believes Dirk was murdered. Over the next few pages, he outlines several subtle clues. Dirk, for instance, was left-handed. ("He was such a klutz because he was left-handed," Buck says.) Yet the gun used in his supposed suicide was found in his right hand. After all this CSI-type discussion, Alan explains the final subtle clue that led him to suspect Dirk was murdered: Todd-Cothran admitted having Burton killed and threatened to kill Tompkins, too, if he tried to do anything about it. Tompkins, a trained investigator, picks up on clues like that.

After a thug visits Tompkins at his home and threatens him ("I was visited by what you in America call a goon." "A heavy?" "Precisely." "He threatened you?" "He did.") Tompkins had visited Todd-Cothran at his office:

"Well, I get right down to business. I tell him, 'Sir, I believe you've had an employee murdered.' And just as calm as you like, he says, 'Tell you what, governor' — which is a term cockneys use on each other, not something people of his station usually call people of mine. Anyway, he says, 'Tell you what, governor, the next time somebody visits your flat at ten o'clock at night, as a certain gentleman did last night, greet him for me, won't you?"

"What did you say?"

"What could I say? I was stunned to silence! I just looked at him and nodded. 'And let me tell you something else,' he says. 'Tell your friend Williams to keep out of this.' I say 'Williams?' like I don't know who he's talking about. He ignores that because, of course, he knows better."

After a few explicit threats about Buck and Alan's family members, by name, Todd-Cothran calls Tompkins' captain (or "high-level operative"):

"He said to him, 'Sullivan, if one of your men was to come to my office and harass me about anything, what should I do?' And Sullivan, one of my idols, sounded like a little baby. He said, 'Mr. Todd-Cothran, sir, you do whatever you need to do.' And Todd-Cothran said, 'What if I was to kill him where he sits?' And Sullivan said, 'Sir, I'm sure it would be justifiable homicide.' Now get this. Todd-Cothran said, right over the phone to Scotland Yard, where you know they tape every incoming call, and Todd-Cothran knows it just as well, 'What if his name happened to be Alan Tompkins?' Just like that, plain as day. And Sullivan said, 'I'd come over there and dispose of the body myself.' Well, I got the picture."

One hurdle in the writing of any good innocent-man-embroiled-in-an-international-scheme thriller is to explain why our hero can't just go to the police. The classic devices for dealing with this are to either have the hero be unjustly accused of some crime or to have a few corrupt police officers involved in the international scheme. Jenkins here has chosen the latter approach, but he's taken it a bit over the top. He doesn't just suggest that the head of the London Exchange is a corrupt man who has bought off a few inspectors at Scotland Yard, he suggests that England is a lawless oligarchy along the lines of North Korea or Saddam's Iraq. Todd-Cothran's confidence that he can kill with impunity is impressive, I suppose, but his naked threats are inelegant. I'd have preferred something more sophisticated — like using the corrupt Sullivan to plant evidence implicating Buck in Dirk's murder.

In any case, Alan has been threatened into warning Buck off the story — lest something nasty happen to him and his entire family. It's kind of odd, then, that Alan's earlier impulse to hearing Buck's voice on the phone was to "laugh and greet his friend."

Buck Williams, the GIRAT, isn't cowed by these threats, but he does, wisely, decide it might be safer to pursue this story from somewhere other than London, so he uses a pay phone in the pub to book the next flight out of the country using the name on his fake passport, "George Oreskovich." While he does this, Alan heads out to the car to turn off the overhead light that he didn't remember leaving on. Despite all they've been discussing, neither of them finds this suspicious.

As Buck hung up, the door of the pub was blown into the room and a blinding flash and deafening crash sent patrons screaming to the floor. … Buck stared in horror at the frame and melted tires of what had been Alan's Scotland Yard-issue sedan. … A leg and part of a torso lay on the sidewalk — the remains of Alan Tompkins.

As the patrons surged out to get a look at the burning wreckage, Buck elbowed his way through them, pulling his real passport and identification from his wallet. In the confusion he flipped the documents near what was left of the car and hoped they wouldn't get burned beyond readability. Whoever wanted him dead could assume him dead.

That last move isn't bad. Buck crawls through a window out of the back of the pub, runs down a few alleys and catches a cab. When he sees police cars at his hotel, he tells the cabbie to take him straight to the airport where, as "Oreskovich" — "a naturalized Englishman from Poland on his way to a holiday in the States" — he boards a plane to Frankfurt, Germany.

Thus concludes Chapter 10, a strange little interlude that seems to have little to do with the rest of the book. It doesn't advance the plot or reveal character. There's little here that's particularly religious, or that seems to deal very much with the End Times. Todd-Cothran, after all, is a mere midlevel operative in the rising one-world government of the Antichrist. L&J never really resolve or revisit this part of the story, it just becomes a not-quite-convincing excuse for Buck to turn to Nicolae Carpathia for help. All told, this chapter reads like a conventional thriller, poorly executed.

Buck's Jack-Ryan-esque visit to London seems to have happened only to provide vicarious thrills and a sense of adventure. As such, it's not tangential after all. The whole obsession with the End Times — with supposed prophecies of the culmination of history — is a desperate attempt to create significance and meaning for people whose lives are woefully lacking either. The End Times mania promises adventure for the bored. It says that your seemingly meaningless life matters because you are living in The Most Critical Time in the History of the World.

Tracking these End Times prophecies is a form of escapism — something to keep the idle faithful from getting bored until they finally escape for good.

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