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The first few John Wells thrillers from Alex Berenson were of the ticking bomb sort, sometimes literally. But in this latest entry in the series the author takes his foot off of the accelerator to consider the question of whether we ought to torture terrorists to find such bombs and to ponder what such a course of action does both to those we torture and to those whom we task with the torturing.

Wells and his old friend/boss, Ellis Shafer, are called upon when the members of an interrogation team--Task Force 673--start turning up dead under suspicious circumstances. They have to determine whether the motive is revenge on the part of Al Qaeda, a falling out among thieves (there's missing government money and the possibility that the interrogations revealed the location of terrorist funds), a matter of someone in government silencing folks who know too much, or something else altogether.

Initially Wells goes undercover in Egypt, but for the most part the story proceeds as a sub rosa criminal investigation. There are flashbacks interspersed though that detail just what the task force did to a couple detainees at a secret prison in Poland and how their work affected the team members themselves. Central to this portion of the novel is Dr. rachel Caller, the psychioatrist who had sought to be assigned to the squad but developed qualms about their methods. She apparently took her own life once she got back stateside.

If you're hyper-sensitive about spoilers you may want to stop reading here--but it does not give away too much to say that Task Force 673 ended up being responsible for a real intelligence coup as well as for the destruction of a number of lives. So, the question that Mr. Berenson places before us is: was what they did worth it?

By approaching the subject from a fictional angle he is able to create drama and add texture to the characters involved that might go missing in a mere factual recounting. In Wells and Shafer he also affords himself two sympathetic CIA men as judges of other operatives and of the extremes to which they went. He does not ultimately draw a hard and fast conclusion of his own, leaving that to the reader, and he also leaves the story at a point where Well's next mission seems obvious. As a result, and because he's slowed the pace of action down, the book has the unfinished quality of a middle book in a trilogy. It may frustrate those looking for the adrenaline rush of the earlier books, but the philsophical/political ruminations it will provoke in most readers are ample compensation. And the promise of further adventures should make everyone happy.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B+)

  

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Alex Berenson (3 books reviewed)
Thrillers
Alex Berenson Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: Alex Berenson
    -BOOK SITE: The Faithful Spy
    -EXCERPT: First Chapter of The Faithful Spy
    -GOOGLE BOOK: The Faithful Spy
    -GOOGLE BOOK: The Ghost War
    -GOOGLE BOOK: The Number
    -ESSAY: Plotting Thrillers in the Fog of China (ALEX BERENSON, November 21, 2009, NY Times)
    -DIARY: Embedded in Najaf (Alex Berenson, November 2004, Slate)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: with Alex Berenson (The Leonard Lopate Show, 2/09/10 )
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: with Alex Berenson (John J. Miller: NRO: Between the Covers)
    -PROFILE: Timing is perfect for Berenson's spy novels (DAVID MARTINDALE, 2/10/10, The Star-Telegram)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview With Best-Selling Spy Novelist Alex Berenson (Mike Le, Feb 1 2010, geekweek)
    -INTERVIEW: Novelist Alex Berenson on his new book, The Midnight House (Hugh Hewitt, February 10, 2010)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEWS: with Alex Berenson (Eye on Books)
    -INTERVIEW: Oops! I E-mailed a Reporter: If you're a partner at a powerful law firm and your client is in secret settlement talks, you really don't want to send a confidential e-mail to the wrong person - especially not a reporter. Guess what the New York Times' Alex Berenson found in his inbox? He tells the story. (On The Media, February 08, 2008)
    -INTERVIEW: with Alex Berenson (Bookreporter, May 2006)
    -INTERVIEW: With Alex Berenson (Internet Writing Journal, May 18, 2007)
    -INTERVIEW: 'The Faithful Spy': Infiltrating Al-Qaida (Talk of the Nation, May 10, 2006)
    -REVIEW: of THE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT By Alan Furst (Alex Berenson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of VICIOUS CIRCLE: A Novel of Complicity By Robert Littell (Alex Berenson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of WE ARE NOW BEGINNING OUR DESCENT By James Meek (Alex Berenson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of DEVIL MAY CARE By Sebastian Faulks, writing as Ian Fleming (Alex Berenson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO By Stieg Larsson (Alex Berenson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of FIDEL'S LAST DAYS By Roland Merullo (Alex Berenson, NY Times Book Review)
    -ARCHIVES: Alex Berenson (NY Times)
    -ARCHIVES: Alex Berenson (DayLife)
    -REVIEW: of The Midnight House by Alex Berenson (Philip Seib, Dallas Morning News)
    -REVIEW: of Midnight House (Colette Bancroft, St. Petersburg Times)
    -REVIEW: of Midnight House (Harry Levins, St. Louis POST-DISPATCH)
    -REVIEW: of midnight House (Joe Meyers, CT News)
    -REVIEW: of Midnight House (Elise Cooper, BLACKFIVE)
    -REVIEW: of The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson (JACOB HEILBRUNN, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Faithful Spy (Celia McGee, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Faithful Spy (Richard Schickel, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Faithful Spy (Gilbert Cruz, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of The Faithful Spy (Travis Taylor, Book Page)
    -REVIEW: of The Ghost War by Alex Berenson (Robert D. Kaplan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Ghost War (Donna Volkenannt , Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of The Number: How the Drive for Quarterly Earnings Corrupted Wall Street and Corporate America by Alex Berenson (Rob Walker, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Number (dan Seligman, Commentary)

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