Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

New Spy Novels for a New Time


Terrorists and undercover CIA agents are the stuff of news headlines these days, but they also make for thrilling fiction. Allen Cheuse has a review of two new spy novels, Alex Berenson's THE FAITHFUL SPY and Robert Baer's BLOW THE HOUSE DOWN.

ALAN CHEUSE: Maxwell Waller, the main character in BLOW THE HOUSE DOWN, shows a profile much like his creators, longtime CIA field agent with strong ties to the Middle East. The prologue takes us back to the spring of 1984, when he was stationed in Lebanon and got the news that William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut, had been kidnapped by terrorists and later murdered.

Determined to discover the identity of the leader of that kidnapping operation, Waller, years later, finds some evidence that he makes the mistake of presenting to some of his colleagues. One of them dies almost immediately, apparently by his own hand, and Waller becomes the subject of surveillance by his own people, which sends him underground, making his way back to the Middle East in pursuit of Buckley's killers.

How all this ties in to the discovery of some U.S. participants in the 9/11 plot drives this engaging story forward, ever forward to an explosive conclusion.

Quite ironically, the first novel, THE FAITHFUL SPY, by the New York Times reporter Alex Berenson, a man with no experience in the spy trade, stacks up just as well if not better than Baer's.

The spy of the title is a CIA agent named John Wells, who becomes the first American agent to infiltrate alQaida. Wells, caught between his authentic American loyalty and a newly acquired devotion to Islam, takes us on a stealth mission to infiltrate one of the most tightly bound organizations in the world.

Both books suggest that lone wolves like Maxwell Waller and John Wells are the only variety of agent who can stand between us and a terrorist Armageddon. That might not be so comforting to think about with respect to real life, but in novels as engrossing as these, it makes for fast and furious fiction of an infectious variety.

SIEGEL: The books are THE FAITHFUL SPY by Alex Berenson and BLOW THE HOUSE DOWN by Robert Baer. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches at George Mason University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Alan Cheuse died on July 31, 2015. He had been in a car accident in California earlier in the month. He was 75. Listen to NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamburg's retrospective on his life and career.