The Room with the White Fire: T. Jefferson Parker
Creating a world within a person’s own world to survive is the basis for this multi-faceted novel that will take the reader right into the mind of a man whose wounds are more within him and the reasons for his inner battle within himself traps his mind and body as if in a coffin with a tight lid. Being imprisoned or incarcerated in a mental institution because your family feels that you are a danger to yourself is supposed to help the person return to the general community, his/her life when the treatments are geared for such a program. But, what about patients that are tortured, interrogated, locked, starved and deprived sleep for days in order to make sure that they know that those who are in charge of where they are own them body and mind. If they don’t submit to their will they will endure even more. Roland Ford has his own memories that haunt him every day as he relives the combat battles he fought and remembers the accident that took his wife’s life. He is often in present situations and the author with Roland’s help relates what he remembers from the past as he slips back in time from the present so that we understand how and why he deals with the here and now. Once a cop and a former marine, now a Private Investigator, he has been hired to find Air Force veteran Clay Hickman. His parents are furious that he was able to escape Arcadia the institution he was housed in for three years. Roland has his own crosses to bear beginning with having served as a Marine in Fallujah and the death of his wife Justine. Like a black mourning veil hanging over his head hoping to let the sunlight through he takes on this case to find Clay Hickman. Each person that he questions will let the reader know that each person is filling him in on half truths and some lies. From the young girl named Sequoia who helped him escape by providing him with a shovel and claims she can help Roland find him but having loan him a car and smart yet able to skirt the issue and questions he asks, he hopes that Clay is not out there with weapons and armed.
The Room of White Fire is an unusual title for a place where torture takes place. To define it would relate to a place owned by a rich psychologist named Briggs Spencer who claims his method of treatment is holy acceptable and even though any sane person would disagree. The interrogation techniques he learned from the CIA and the people under him are dangerous, nasty and suspicious. Paige Hulet is the doctor who is in charge of Clays case but seems to be more involved with him, worried about him and yet the relationship seems more then doctor/patient. She also seems to use her role as a doctor and her job in this facility as her only means of existence. When speaking with both they ask to be contacted first when he finds Clay but being astute and smart he agrees to think about it. Roland faces many inner conflicts and when told by a CIA operative to call him first you begin to see red flags come up and the fact that behind the walls in and in the rooms of the “Partners” of residents of this facility evil lurks. The Room of White Fire focuses on black sites that are used for interrogation and the different methods created by non-military and non- CIA psychologists taking place in Romania. Within the minds of those you might say imprisoned in this facility some will lose their way, some will find solace by creating other personalities and hearing voices telling them what to do but will they ever find or regain their souls? When Roland takes a short helicopter flight with Briggs you can feel his stomach churn, you can tell he’s beginning to see the truth behind what he might suspect and the hope that he will land and find his way away from this man who seems to know all that he has already learned but who is the leak?
The scenes are about to get graphic as the author creates the torture scenes that might be hard to take as they are so graphic you can see, feel and hear the pain inflicted on victims. Meanwhile Hickman the missing military soldier was not in Iraq as noted in his files but part of a program called SERE: Survival, Evaluation, Resistance, Escape. It was a game of torture that when you read about it it’s scary and you wonder just how sadistic Briggs and his partner would torture these partners until they could no longer handle life and died. Added in Brigg’s partner describes to Roland Ford the means and methods used to torture these victims all in the name of curing their mental illnesses and forcing them to submit to their every will. So, what did Clay Hickman have that would turn the tables around and why was John Vasquez killed in cold blood and his wife and son locked in a wine closet thinking they were next. White Fire is the code name for the torture sight in Rumania where this took place and white fire is what Clay claims he wants to bring to Deimos because he has half and John had the other. Ford has a plan with the help of his family who surrounds him when things get tough and the image of his late wife coming into focus he allows readers to get into his mind and soul when he devises a plan to get Clay out in the open and what he shows readers will make your insides cringe and your body shake with disgust and fear. The videos are graphic and what he did and was apart of needs to be stopped and the way Ford creates his plan is the brilliance of author T.J. Parker.
Alec DeMaris, the security lead at Arcadia, Paige Hulet and Briggs Spencer formed an alliance at first along with his parents to bring him home but wanting Ford to tell each one of them first. Justine his late wife might have crashed in the ocean and Paige’s husband Dan died from cancer, yet somehow they both seemed to mesh but for how long and will his plan bring some hope or closure to Clay? A war fought but not on the battlefield by two men who lead the way in order to control the minds of others and use unheard off tactics of torture and even creating fear in a young child watching his father tortured and taunted yet keeping his dignity all the way. Acts that go against anything ever heard of yet who knows what is done to prisoners when they are taken captive. Money, power, mind control, control, innocent soldiers led to the slaughter in order to prove he can. Within his secret facility Clay Hickman videotaped what Dr. Briggs Spencer did during the second war in Iraq in a secret place in Romania. Recruited by our own CIA and Dr. Briggs, Clay was an unwilling participant in something he had no control over until now. Captured enemies from the war in Iraq in 2008-2009 are those that suffered at the hand of what was supposed to be some kind of experiment to make people these men give up the secrets they thought they had to get the enemy.
What happens when Ford reveals to Clay’s parents the truth behind the drugs that Spencer gave him, what was really happening behind the doors of this mental institution, their son’s assignment when enlisting to White Fire and the flash drives and videos that will stay in their minds forever. The ending is quite remarkable and graphic as the players come face to face but who lives, who dies and whose plan of action wins? Clay and Sequoia formed a special bond and his parents have to work through what they learn and decide on how to forgive or not forgive their son. The ending just might be a new beginning for some as Ford comes face to face with several other parties involved and the ending leads readers to think that this is not over yet. Faced with a hard line decision author T. Jefferson Parker gives Ford the choice between doing the right thing or burying the truth. A book that could be ripped right out of the headlines and the facts related not far from the harsh realities some face. When the dust settles and the hope of the video created will come what will Clay’s fate be and what about Paige where will she wind up? Will Arcadia be closed and what about Spencer and his crew of sadistic mental health workers? Parker delivers a story with punch, intrigue, vivid and true to life descriptions of what happens when greed, money, control, mind control and power overturn what healthcare professionals dealing with the mentally ill are supposed to do but in this case do not.
Roland Ford is a strong adversary and his quick thinking and his loyalty to justice is admirable and his way of dealing with foes creative. A story of what happens when the sick and disturbed become the deranged and submissive because one man thinks it’s necessary. The tragedy begins the moment you enter Arcadia and get reminded of the one place you never want to visit or enter: THE ROOM WITH THE WHITE FIRE!
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ Network/MJ magazine