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by Salar Abdoh
Picador/St. Martin's Press, February 2000
240 pages
ISBN: 0312209541

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

When I first received The Poet Game to review I read the cover and thought to myself that this book just wasn't for me. I enjoy a good spy novel once in a while, but I have very little interest in reading about Middle Eastern terrorists. I almost sent the book back, but then I thought that I should give it a try first. I planned to use the 50-page rule: I'd read to page 50 and then make my decision. Well, a funny thing happened when I sat down that first time to read to page 50 - I landed on page 65, somewhere near the middle of chapter 6. I was hooked!

The Poet Game is the story of an Iranian operative, Sami Amir, who is sent to New York to investigate rumored terrorists' plots. He is a member of a special branch of Iranian Security and Intelligence known as the "Office," which investigates extremist branches of itself. Sami was sent to New York to infiltrate one such group, called Section Nineteen, to try to stop another bombing like the one at the World Trade Center. Sami is half American and half Iranian. He was raised in a Catholic school in Tehran and speaks perfect English. It is because of his background that he was sent to the United States for this assignment.

After arriving in New York, Sami encounters various members of different political groups, all of whom are suspicious of him and many of whom are double crossing him. Eventually he connects with his point person who turns out to be the beautiful Ellena, an American woman, who in addition to working for Iran intelligence, has a night job as an exotic dancer and writes poetry. Sami isn't quite sure what to make of her, and he doesn't completely trust her. The two sometimes work together and sometimes work against each other, but eventually they fall in love.

The story has many twists and turns. It is never really clear which side the various characters are on, and even when you think you know, you're probably wrong. Everyone has their own agenda and no one trusts anyone else. Sami finds that he can't even always trust the people within his own agency.

The book was well written and fairly fast paced. It was suspenseful and definitely intriguing. I had a bit of trouble keeping up with all the different characters and who was a good guy and who was a bad guy. And there are so many double-crosses throughout the book that at times it was very difficult to follow. But once I got into the story, I really wanted to figure it all out.

The Poet Game has all the elements of the traditional spy novel including telephone encryption devices, code words, and double agents. It's definitely a fun read.

Reviewed by Jennifer Dittenhofer, July 2001

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