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Banquo's Ghostsby Keith Korman
Synopses & Reviews
After learning that an Iranian scientist is in the process of developing nuclear weapons on Iranian soil, all-but-forgotten Spymaster Stewart Banquo initiates a rogue special operation. With the assistance of his most trusted agent, Robert Wallets, Banquo recruits Peter Johnson, a dissolute, morally bankrupt liberal news journalist, to travel to Iran. Johnson poses as a sympathetic reporter writing a piece on the country’s nuclear facilities. His mission: to kill the scientist. Like many elaborate plans, Johnson’s assassination attempt fails. The journalist falls into Iranian hands and is tortured to confess—a staggering security crisis for the United States. Aided by Wallets and the battle-hardened Marjorie Morningstar—the CIA operatives who trained him—Johnson escapes from Iran.
Now back in the United States, Johnson helps Banquo and his CIA cohorts lead a team of federal agents and New York City officials in tracking down a group of suspected Iranian terrorists in New York who are planning to commit nuclear terrorism by dispersing a highly radioactive material throughout the city streets and subways. When Johnson’s only daughter is kidnapped by the Iranians, he and Banquo must race against time to save her...and the City of New York.
"National Review editor Lowry (Legacy) and Korman (Swan Dive) have written an exciting, intelligent novel that delivers the thriller goods and tosses barbs at do-gooder politicians, government obstructionists, reporters and a wide array of liberal weenies. Unlikely hero Peter Johnson, a mildly buffoonish writer working for the Crusader, a left-wing magazine, is recruited by CIA agent Stewart Banquo for the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist. Banquo figures no one would ever suspect Johnson, known for his drunkenness and willingness to take a bribe, to be working for the CIA. Johnson, who accepts the job for a variety of reasons, heads off to Iran. A series of double crosses lands Johnson in the hands of the Iranians and sets up the rest of the plot involving a chillingly plausible terrorist attack. A major thread left untied points to what should be a much anticipated sequel. Expect a boost from author appearances on Hannity's America. 6-city author tour. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Like undercover agents suddenly discovering rival operatives on the same mission, two new spy thrillers seem to have stumbled into each other's path in recent weeks. Both "Banquo's Ghosts" and "The Increment" propose that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program and focus attention on a scientist at the heart of the research. Both novels involve a rogue CIA operation that departs from agency protocol.... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) And both books boast a noted journalist at the helm: Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review (his co-author here is a literary agent), and David Ignatius is a columnist for The Washington Post. Yet despite all these similarities, the two novels couldn't be more different in their attitudes and approaches. The title character of "Banquo's Ghosts" is an old-school spook, operating just off the CIA's radar — a sort of desk-jockey Jack Bauer tasked to "execute unspoken decisions and deniable intentions." He and his team protect the United States not just from its enemies but from its own weakened bureaucracy and its sorry dependence on frail U.N. resolutions. As far back as a stint in 1980s Beirut, Banquo saw how politics compromised security, and he doesn't intend to let it happen again with this new threat from the Middle East. His latest recruit is Peter Johnson, a bourbon-sotted, left-leaning journalist who's been relentlessly hard on American policies. Johnson is trusted by the Iranians, making him the only one who might get close enough to prove the WMDs are real and then to assassinate the chief architect of the atomic program. All Banquo needs to do is set Johnson on the right path. In "The Increment," on the other hand, it's not the United States that takes the initiative but the Iranian scientist himself. Dr. Ali contacts the CIA through encrypted channels and posts secret information about weapons-grade uranium enrichment. Harry Pappas, chief of the Agency's Iran Operations Division, assembles a team to determine the validity of the information and perhaps recruit Dr. Ali as an agent for the home cause. But as Pappas considers how best to capitalize on this unexpected resource, a trigger-happy U.S. government rushes toward military action. "Bomb, bomb, bomb. Let's bomb Iran," mimics Pappas, who lost his son in Iraq, a student who quit college after Sept. 11 to join the war effort. Pappas can't forgive himself for failing to tell his son that any connection between Sept. 11 and Saddam Hussein was bogus. Even in synopses, the novels' opposing political leanings are apparent, and "Banquo's Ghosts" in particular wears its party affiliation on its sleeve. Lowry and Korman make an example of the journalist sent to Iran, using his disenchantment with misguided liberalism as a life lesson about morality and patriotism and being a real man. As the plot ratchets to a frenzy, "Banquo's Ghost" lampoons the left-wing media and decries a society more interested in hosting "sexual harassment and racial sensitivity seminars" than in eradicating the real evils of the world. Who is that real enemy? The phrase "Muslim Diabolical Genius: Islamo-Nazi-Girl" is used at one point. And what should we do about her? By the time waterboarding rears its ugly, gasping-for-breath head, the book has long since assured us that the ends justify "any means necessary," openly challenging readers to consider the consequences of hesitation, inaction and even diplomacy. Banquo orders torture without flinching, but he's left shaken by the suggestion that the United States might simply talk to Iran: "'Dialogue ... ' Banquo whispered, aghast but totally controlled. He wanted to yell now. He'd heard that word before. Always before something terrible happened." In "The Increment," by contrast, we're given lots of conversation, much of it potentially plodding for readers who signed up for cloak-and-dagger and instead got pulled into closed-door policy meetings. E-mails between the CIA and Dr. Ali seek to build relationships and cement understanding. Pappas' internal dialogue reflects on the similarities between his personal loss and Iran's own historic sense of suffering. Dr. Ali ruminates on his father's bitterness toward the shah and his own disillusionment with the Revolution. We're halfway through the novel before the covert ops group known as the Increment is even called to duty. So which is more successful? Hard-hitting action or discreet diplomacy? Readers looking for sheer suspense will be better served by picking up "Banquo's Ghosts." But for others, myself included, a novel's merit might well be judged less by the swiftness of its plot than by the breadth and generosity of its perspective. While "Banquo's Ghosts" subordinates character to thesis and frequently demonizes those Iranian baddies, "The Increment" seeks to paint a full portrait of its young scientist — charting his hopes and fears, plumbing the motivations behind his shifting allegiances and dangerous betrayals. Where "Banquo's Ghosts" races toward panic in the streets, a more richly emotional climax takes place in "The Increment." It may lack fireworks, but it bears the hard weight of both political and personal history and recognizes the seriousness of what might come next. Reviewed by Art Taylor, who regularly reviews mysteries and thrillers for The Washington Post and other publications, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
An explosive and topical novel about a potential United States war with Iran, written by one of the leading lights of the conservative movement
About the Author
Rich Lowry graduated in 1990 from the University of Virginia, where he studied English and history. He was named editor of National Review in 1997. He has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and a variety of other publications. He is a syndicated columnist and a commentator for the Fox News Channel. His book, Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years, was a New York Times bestseller. He lives in New York City.
Keith Korman is a graduate of Friends’ Seminary in New York City and Hobart College in Geneva, New York. A literary agent in his family’s firm Raines & Raines, he has represented a wide variety of authors in both fiction and nonfiction for the last 30 years. His previous works include Swan Dive, Archangel, and Secret Dreams. He lives in upstate New York.
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