by Philip K. Jason

BORN IN ILLINOIS, Karna Small Bodman began her career as a television reporter and later a news anchor in the San Francisco area. Bodman continued working as a television journalist in other major markets, most importantly in Washington, DC, where she anchored the late news and hosted a nationally syndicated program on business and economic issues. She also hosted a three-hour news/talk radio show.

During the Reagan administration, Mrs. Bodman held several posts. She was selected in 1981 to be the deputy to Press Secretary James Brady. Soon afterward, she became Director of Media Relations & Planning for the White House Office of Communications. Later, she became Senior Director for Public Affairs at the National Security Council. In this role, she attended arms control talks, briefed the leaders of heads of state, and attended the Geneva Summit. She had a first-hand view of White House operations and security issues. Upon her departure from government service in 1986 to become Senior Vice President of a Public Affairs firm, Bodman was the highest ranking woman on the White House staff.

Karna Small Bodman knows national security issues and the politics that shape them inside out.

In her latest literary outing, Bodman has taken a detour around the central characters of her first two political thrillers (Checkmate and Gambit). Instead, she has given us compelling new personalities to follow in this captivating portrayal of all-too-plausible threats to our national security. When gas pipelines start exploding, Samantha Reid swings into action. As White House Deputy Director for Homeland Security, she senses the magnitude of the danger, but her opaque and self-absorbed superior is not ready to act. Indeed, no one seems ready to act. In Final Finesse, getting the bureaucracy to recognize and respond to a crisis is like wading in molasses. The author knows how thick the molasses is first-hand, having waded in it herself.

Samantha finds an ally in Tripp Adams, vice president of GeoGlobal Oil & Gas, the company that owns the pipelines. She quickly figures out the technical side of what the saboteurs are up to and enlists Tripp in her investigation. Clearly enough, the explosions — as they mount —promote chaos in the fuel markets, sending prices out of sight. Communities and even large regions of the country are threatened by severe, ongoing energy crisis that cripples all aspects of economic life. Hospitals can’t function, heat is unavailable, people are suffering and the country is ripe for panic. Among the possible beneficiaries are enemies of the United States, especially those with a significant stake in the world energy market. We are led to suspect the leader of a certain South American country who makes a policy of nationalizing enterprises that foreign investors like GeoGlobal spend fortunes to establish.

Tripp is assigned to go to Caracas in order to negotiate with ‘El Presidente’ and his government. As he prepares for his trip and as his professional dealings with Samantha turn personal, a white-hot romance develops.

In Final Finesse, Bodman employs the sure-fire narrative technique of alternating perspectives. While Samantha is the controlling intelligence in one group of chapters, another group of chapters is focused on the gas field workers who have been hired and trained to sabotage the pipelines. Yet another group reveals the deliberations of El Presidente and his clever but conceited aide known as ‘The Fixer.’ The author brings one part of her story line to a suspenseful moment and then postpones pushing it forward by switching over to another part of her story line for awhile, once again planting new and suspenseful questions. By orchestrating her narrative in this way, Bodman tightens her hold on her readers’ attention, revealing and withholding information with great dexterity.

The stakes are raised when Tripp is kidnapped and held for ransom in Venezuela. A frustrated and worried Samantha throws caution and government regulations to the wind, organizing her own rescue effort by getting GeoGlobal to hire a paramilitary crew from a company for which Tripp once worked. From this point on, the plot line alternates primarily between Tripp and his kidnappers and the operatives whom Samantha has engaged — and whom she insists on accompanying into the danger zone. The team leader, Joe Campiello, is an attractive, well-drawn minor character.

Indeed, there is a fairly large cast of supporting players that give dimension and credibility to the world that Bodman constructs. These include Samantha’s boss, who tries to take credit for her work and can’t wait for his next appearance on cable news shows; a gang leader named Eyeshade; a friend of Samantha’s named Angela Marconi, who also holds an important White House position; and Evan Ovich, another White House staffer whom I take as an irresistible, playful reference to a Bodman friend — a well-know novelist named Janet.

Final Finesse is a worthy addition to Karna Small Bodman’s growing collection of political thrillers. Authoritative, well-paced, and just plain fun to read, it also is a novel offering food for thought about the dangers that our country faces and intriguing insights into how well our government is prepared to deal with them.
While Bodman takes her readers to Oklahoma and other places where gas lines are threatened, to the White House and several other DC locations, and even to Venezuela — the brief reference to our dear Naples (Tripp’s parents have a winter place in Port Royal) is a bit of icing on the cake. Karna Small Bodman spends a good part of each year at home in Naples, where she is a great asset to Southwest Florida’s literary and cultural community.

Fans can meet Ms. Bodman at the Naples Barnes & Noble on Saturday, January 23, from 2-4pm, when she will be signing the just-released paperback edition of Final Finesse. On April 10 at 11:30am, she will be the speaker at the Naples Authors & Books Festival’s Celebrity Author Luncheon at Vergina Restaurant in Naples. For more information, visit www.authorsandbooksfestival.org. •

from the January-February 2010 issue

Small Bodman
was Senior Director for Public Affairs
at the National Security Council