Auditioning new thriller authors is a gamble. We develop a relationship with selected authors, their characters, plots, and settings. Investing time in a complex literary reading experience written by a new author entails a leap of faith. Yet risk can pay. Discovering a talented author who possesses a wealth of experience and who has so much to share is satisfying. While I've enjoyed thrillers by Tom Clancy, Anthony Hyde, Frederick Forsyth, John LeCarre, and Daniel Silva, I was ready for new material and a fresh narrator's voice. I decided to try Alex Berenson's writing. Berenson is a New York Times reporter who has covered stories ranging from the occupation of Iraq to the flooding of New Orleans to the financial crimes of Bernie Madoff. Reading his first novel, The FAITHFUL SPY (Jove paper 2008), looked like a good way to get acquainted.
The FAITHFUL SPY: Plot
John Wells is an American Central Intelligence Agency agent who, by all appearances, has gone over to the other side and is now a member of Al Qaeda. He has converted to Islam and is a devout Muslim. He has not been heard from in several years, yet the CIA takes note of occasional reports that a tall American matching Well's description has surfaced in the company of Al Qaeda fighters.
John has earned the respect and trust of his fighters after years of sacrifice, living, fighting, and sacrificing as they do. As the novel opens, he maneuvers his squad into an attack on American special forces in Afghanistan that he knows will devastate his team. All of his fellow fighters are killed by the Americans, and John 'surfaces,' revealing his identity complete with the code phrase that he has not used in many years, to notify Washington that he is still loyal to the CIA. From there, the plot moves to a planned attack in America, and his need to remain undercover to learn details from his secretive Al Qaeda handlers in the hopes of averting another disastrous attack on America.
In Langley, CIA administrators and managers distrust Wells. They don't buy his story. He is a rogue. There is little the bureaucrats fear more than individual initiative. All except for his handler, Exley, who believes in him, yet must tread carefully to avoid being kicked out of the the agency and everything she has worked so hard to achieve. Wells remains caught between America's intelligence apparatus, law enforcement officials, and lethal Al Qaeda believers. He must operate effectively in both cultures and does so at great personal cost.
Ultimately, Wells confronts the Al Qaeda villain who drives a car bomb loaded with radioactive elements that will render several square miles of midtown Manhattan uninhabitable for a century. The authorities who are hunting for Wells will certainly shoot first, and ask questions later. It comes down to Wells against the fury of radical Islam on a street with no place to hide. It will either be Wells or his Al Qaeda nemesis who survives, but not both...
The FAITHFUL SPY: Recommended. Berenson's sure voice, direct writing style and pacing kept me turning pages. I look forward to reading the next.