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While covering the war in Afghanistan, Dan Fesperman was frequently tired -- and bored. He endured long stretches of travel across unfamiliar terrain, but instead of napping, he paid attention to his surroundings.

"You do have a lot of time for note taking, because you're moving around a lot," says Fesperman, who covered the war for the Baltimore Sun. "A lot of reporting in places like that is just getting from one place to the next, often in hazardous conditions.".

Because he was in a war zone, Fesperman took more than the usual amount of notes. Not only did his reporting benefit, but "The Warlord's Son," his third novel, also took root..

"Almost from the moment I got there, I thought it was a great setting," he says. "What could be more interesting than the location near the Khyber Pass? I just didn't know what type of book it would be."
    -PROFILE: Journalist's war coverage gave birth to his third novel (Regis Behe, October 17, 2004 , Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW)
In the event, the book turns out to be reminiscent of Gerald Seymour, the very best thriller writer of the past thirty years. Mr. Seymour too had a journalist's background that he's put to good service in sketching out the background of various wartorn settings. In Mr. Fesperman's case, his heroes too are journalists. Stanford J. "Skelly" Kelly is nearing the end off his career as a foreign journalist and about to be assigned to some boring domestic desk. Despite a trail of ex-wives and children, he has few real friends or family members who care about him. The opening of the war against the Taliban in late 2001 offers him a shot at one last big story and he snaps it up. But he knows from experience that he needs a guide to this exotic turf and he lucks upon Najeeb, the warlord's son of the title. Raised in a tribal village on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border, educated in America, estranged from his father, but forbidden to re-enter the States, Najeeb is stuck between the modern world and the primitive, offering his services in Peshawar. Complicating matters still further is his illicit girlfriend, Daliya, who's run out on an arranged marriage, and the fundamentalist threats he's been receiving about this relationship.

When Skelly and Najeeb get the opportunity to travel into Afghanistan with a minor warlord and his band of fighters, both American and Pakistani intelligence operatives encourage them, respectively, desperate for information about what's going on in no-man's land. Awaiting them are a potential meeting with the fleeing Osama bin Laden and a certain reckoning with the father Najeeb betrayed some years before. Following them are Daliya and the spooks. And as they travel into this forbidding region where there is no authority but arcane tribal custom and the barrel of a Kalashnikov and where back-stabbing is a way of life, the two men can trust no one but each other, and they're pretty much strangers.

Mr. Fesperman does a masterful job of building the tension as his story wends its way into a contemporary heart of darkness. Key to the story is the idea that while Najeeb and Skelly could be not just colleagues but friends in America, there is little hope they'll even survive in a land where their Westernism is despised. Nor is it possible to imagine the abyss they travel into ever becoming modernized and liberalized. The cake of custom is too firmly baked. Indeed, one of Najeeb's handlers makes it quite clear that they don't even bother trying to influence events: "Just about any outcome suits our purposes, as long as I'm kept informed." This then is ultimately a story of the reporters who try to keep us informed about the places where our influence barely reaches and which are, therefore, lethally dangerous. It is also a moving story of the tragic waste of life that characterizes these benighted places.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

Dan Fesperman Links:

    -AUTHOR PAGE: Dan Fesperman (Random House)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: The Warlord's Son by Dan Fesperman
    -ESSAY: Dan Fesperman on foreign locales (Read Street)
    -OBIT: 1920 - 2005: The life of Pope John Paul II: Resistance to all tyranny, faithful to the end (Dan Fesperman and John Rivera, April 3, 2005, Baltimore Sun)
    -ESSAY: Soldiers' story shifts from pride to shame (Dan Fesperman, May 2, 2004, Baltimore Sun)
    -ESSAY: With a rumble, chaos: Crisis: A train's lurch, a flashing light, hour by hour a new emergency - a Baltimore story of fire, flood and heroism in the face of unknown dangers below. (Dan Fesperman, July 21, 2001, Baltimore Sun)
    -ESSAY: How Fingerprinting Came to Be a Crime-Solving Tool (DAN FESPERMAN, July 23, 2001, BALTIMORE SUN)
    -PROFILE: of Brian Lamb: An Unblinking Eye on Capitol Hill (DAN FESPERMAN, April 09, 2001, BALTIMORE SUN)
    -ARTICLE: Pakistani editor shrugs off attack (Dan Fesperman, November 6, 2001, Baltimore Sun)
    -PROFILE: Journalist's war coverage gave birth to his third novel (Regis Behe, October 17, 2004 , Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Dan Fesperman (Fresh Air from WHYY, June 22, 1999)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Novel Captures Life of Sarajevo Policeman (Linda Wertheimer, October 5, 2003, Weekend Edition Sunday)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Lie in the Dark (Linda Wertheimer, May 31, 1999, All Things Considered
    -INTERVIEW: Dan Fesperman Cuts The Mustard (Interviewed by Eve Tan Gee , CrimeTime)
    -INTERVIEW: Dan Fesperman speaks: Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, 22nd to 25th July 2004 (Ayo Onatade, Shots Ezine)
    -ARCHIVES: Dan Fesperman (Baltimore Sun)
    -ARCHIVES: Dan Fesperman (LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Warlord's Son by Dan Fesperman (Andrew Johnston, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Warlord's Son (John Hartl, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Warlord's Son ( Sarah Weinman, January Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of Warlord's Son (Andi Shechter, Bookreporter)
    -REVIEW: of The Prisoner of Giuantanamo by Dan Fesperman (Gillian Slovo, The Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Prisoner of Guantanamo (Matthew Lewin, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Prisoner of Guantanamo (Peter Earnest, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Prisoner of Guantanamo (Carol Memmott, USA TODAY)
    -REVIEW: of Prisoner of Guantanamo (Yvonne Zipp, CS Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of Prisoner of Guantanamo (Stephen Lyons, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Prisoner of Guantanamo (Mary J. Elkins, Rocky Mountain News)
    -REVIEW: of Prisoner of Guantanamo (Regis Behe, Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Prisoner of Guantanamo (Reviews of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Small Boat Of Great Sorrows by Dan Fesperman (Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Small Boat (Jonathan Mahler, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Small Boat (Chris Petit, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Small Boat of Great Sorrows (Sarah Weinman, January Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of Small Boat (Lizzie Skurnick, City Paper)
    -REVIEW: of Lie in the Dark by Dan Fesperman (James Diedrick, The Richmond Review)
    -REVIEW: of Lie in the Dark (Mark Luce, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Lie in the Dark (Val MacDermid, Tangled Web)
    -REVIEW: of Lie in the Dark (Barcelona Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Amateur Spy by Dan Fesperman (Adam B. Vary, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Amateur Spy (Charles Matthews, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Amateur Spy (Mr. Plum, CrimeCritics)
    -REVIEW: of Amateur Spy (Lou Novacheck, BlogCritics)
    -REVIEW: of Amateur Spy (Jeff Baker, The Oregonian)

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