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The Amateur Spyby Dan Fesperman
Synopses & Reviews
The Amateur Spy — Dan Fesperman's most galvanizing thriller yet — takes us to a flashpoint of global intrigue, recasting the spy novel for the post–9/11 world: Anyone might be watching; everyone is suspect.
Burned out by years of humanitarian-aid work, Freeman and Mila Lockhart have retreated to an idyllic Greek island. But on the first night of their new life they are surprised by three intruders who seem to know everything about Freeman — including a haunting secret he has long kept from Mila. They use it to blackmail him into spying on an old Palestinian friend in Jordan. Overnight, Freeman is plunged into the maelstrom of the Middle East and is quickly in over his head.
In suburban Washington, D.C., meanwhile, a prosperous Palestinian-American couple, Abbas and Aliyah Rahim, are still grieving for their daughter, accidentally killed while vacationing abroad. Abbas, a surgeon whose patients number among the nation's elite, blames her death on the bureaucratic machinations of overly suspicious officials. Aliyah fears he may be reeling toward fanaticism, and her efforts to avert this take her to Jordan. Like Freeman, she is soon overwhelmed by the region's dangerous passions and complexities.
As their paths converge, Freeman and Aliyah — both desperately worried about the loved ones they left behind — must swiftly separate fact from illusion, enemy from friend. The consequences of failure could be catastrophic...
"War correspondent Fesperman, the winner of the CWA's John Creasey Memorial Dagger Award, shines the light of his insider's knowledge into the dark corners of Jordan and Jerusalem in his gripping fifth thriller. After a career as an aid worker in some of the world's hot spots, 55-year-old Freeman Lockhart has retired with his 37-year-old Bosnian wife, Mila, to the Aegean island of Karos. The first night in their new home they wake to find three intruders, who spirit Freeman away to a nearby location where he's ordered to fly to Jordan to spy on a former friend and co-worker, Omar al-Baroody. When Freeman declines, his captors tell him that if he doesn't do what they ask, they'll tell the world his dark secret involving Mila from their days working in Africa. Freeman heads off to Amman to do their bidding. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a wealthy doctor, Abbas Rahim, plots an act of terrorism that will threaten the lives of the government's highest power brokers. Freeman may be an amateur spy, but Fesperman (The Prisoner of Guantanamo) proves once again that he's a consummate professional. Author tour." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"In Dan Fesperman's new spy thriller, two married couples, strangers to one another, find their lives caught up in the intrigue and violence of the war on terror. The first couple, Freeman and Mila Lockhart, are globe-hopping relief workers who are first seen as they retire to a Greek isle. They're smart, sexy, attractive people, but their dream of a new life is shattered when three men invade their... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) bedroom and use threats to force Freeman to undertake a mission on their behalf. The intruders may be CIA agents, but that is not certain. What is certain is that they know secrets about Freeman's past that he cannot allow to be revealed. He therefore agrees to do what they demand: go to Jordan and spy on an old friend from relief-agency days, a Palestinian named Omar al-Baroody. Omar is now operating a health clinic in a refugee camp in Jordan and raising money for a hospital, but the mysterious intruders believe he is involved in terrorism. Freeman reluctantly sets off for Jordan to betray his old friend. The other couple, Abbas and Aliyah Rahim, are prosperous Arab Americans — Palestinians originally — who live in Washington, where he is a respected surgeon. Their lives have fallen apart since Sept. 11. The matronly Aliyah has been subjected to strip-searches at Washington airports. Abbas was jailed for several days because federal authorities were suspicious of Palestinian charities he'd supported. Then, far worse, their daughter, vacationing in London, was killed in an accident in part because U.S. Embassy officials, suspicious of her name, withheld her passport. Aliyah tries to ease her grief with counseling. She also is increasingly aware of how strangely her husband is behaving. The reader suspects, even before she does, that he is planning a terrorist act to avenge his daughter's death. Freeman arrives in Jordan, where the spy mission enables Fesperman to paint a vivid, in-depth picture of the country, from Amman's rich neighborhoods, filled with luxury cars, scheming businessmen and spoiled teenagers, to the teeming and dangerous refugee camps. The greatest strength of 'The Amateur Spy' is this portrait of a world that most of us know almost nothing about. Fesperman shows persuasively the streets and the shops, the political factions and hatreds, the poverty and despair and sudden violence. A rich Palestinian says, 'For many, Osama bin Laden is Robin Hood. I would go so far as to say there is a small Osama in the heart of every Arab citizen, even at this table. And because of what is happening in Iraq and in Palestine, that small Osama is growing.' Fesperman writes of Jordan's capital, 'In the thermal pool of babble known as the Middle East, Amman is the drain into which anything worth repeating eventually swirls, and the city has become a listening post for every government that is still a player in the games of oil politics and Holy Land intrigue.' Elsewhere, he offers a chilling account of what it's like to cross from Amman into Jerusalem: 'a three-hour ordeal of overpriced taxis, flyblown buses, and meticulous body searches.' Along the way, he notes, the traveler passes over a 'narrow brown creek,' which is 'the River Jordan, the most overrated body of water in the history of time.' Aliyah, the grieving wife, also ventures to Amman, hoping to thwart her husband's terrorist plan, but she's far out of her depth. We learn that her husband has concocted a bizarre scheme that, if successful, will kill more than a hundred congressional leaders, Cabinet members and Supreme Court justices in one horrendous explosion. The question becomes whether the two amateurs — Freeman and Aliyah, trapped in Amman — can somehow prevent this disaster back in Washington. Yet Aliyah, a pious woman, is sometimes tempted by the 'horrible beauty' of her husband's wake-up call to America's leaders: 'Why not awaken all the slumbering fools who thought they could simply bludgeon their way across the globe without regard for any lives but their own?' As journalism, 'The Amateur Spy' is exceptional. It is, among other things, a tribute to the aid workers the author has known in wars and refugee camps all over the world. He tosses in unexpected details such as the Christian evangelists who moved to Israel, where their only job 'was to watch the skies above the Old City for signs of the Second Coming.' My only problem with the novel was that I found some of its plot elements improbable — the scheme to blow up the political luminaries, for one — but Fesperman writes so well that it's easy to follow wherever he leads. Besides, who is to say what's improbable in an age of random terror? Perhaps the key sentence in the novel describes the anguished Aliyah as she contemplates her husband's obsession: 'The last bit of sanity in her world had just slipped from her grasp, and now was lost in the chaos of the streets.' I think Fesperman is telling us that the so-called war on terror is having unintended consequences, all over the world, and no one can say where the madness will strike next or who its victims will be." Reviewed by Patrick Anderson, whose e-mail address is mondaythrillers(at symbol)aol.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Crack espionage plotting at the outset gives way to an overdone final act packed with conveniences, so focus instead on Fesperman's cutting insights into international aid and Middle Eastern politics. (Grade: B)" Entertainment Weekly
"[M]ore classy suspense from Fesperman....
"A subtle summary partway through helps keep the plot cooking and the reader's elbows on the table. The conclusion is sudden but the book satisfying in its entirety. Recommended." Library Journal
"Although politically savvy travelers will find much to interest them in the background, the action in the foreground is somewhat slack....
Fesperman's most galvanizing thriller yet takes readers to a flashpoint of global intrigue, recasting the spy novel for the post-9/11 world: Anyone might be watching; everyone is suspect.
About the Author
Dan Fesperman's travels as a writer have taken him to thirty countries and three war zones. Lie in the Dark won the Crime Writers' Association of Britain's John Creasey Memorial Dagger Award for best first crime novel, The Small Boat of Great Sorrows won their Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for best thriller, and The Prisoner of Guantanamo won the Dashiell Hammett Award from the International Association of Crime Writers. He lives in Baltimore.
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