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THE AMATEUR SPY
by Dan Fesperman
Hodder & Stoughton, July 2007
432 pages
16.99 GBP
ISBN: 0340896833


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Dan Fesperman began his career as a writer of literate and compassionate thrillers (in his hands the term is not an oxymoron) set in Eastern Europe where he had extensive experience as a journalist. Since then, he has turned his attention to various of the world's trouble spots – Pakistan, Afghanistan, and, last time out, Guantanamo. Now he turns his eye to the Middle East, to Jordan in this case, and once again offers his characteristic sensitivity to the predicament of individuals caught in swirling political currents.

Freeman Lockhart (the name is a bit Jamesian, but never mind) has just retired under a bit of a cloud from the aid agency where he spent much of his working life. He and his much younger wife Mila have barely turned the key of their retirement home on a small Greek island when they are visited by a sinister trio of security agents, presumably CIA, who make Lockhart an offer he cannot refuse.

Either he takes a job with his old Jordanian friend Omar in order to spy on his activities and report back or they will reveal a secret from his past to Mila, a revelation Lockhart feels might destroy her. Lockhart, who adores his wife and will protect her at all costs, sets off to embark on his double life.

Meanwhile, in Washington DC, another amateur spy operation is underway. Aliyah Rahim, a faithful, if not observant, Muslim, has reason to suspect that her husband, an eminent surgeon and part of the team that saved President Reagan's life, has become unhinged following the death of their only daughter. He attributes the death to the bloody-mindedness that rules in the wake of 9/11, a mean-spiritedness that prevented this Muslim girl from returning home to the US in safety. Aliyah is convinced that he is plotting some act of extremist revenge and is determined to stop him if she can. So she too sets off for Jordan on her own undercover mission.

It goes without saying that their paths will cross, but how and where they do is a tale filled with tension and suspense. Certainly, the murky world of Middle East politics is no place for amateurs, but the professionals often seem only marginally more competent than Freeman and Aliyah and decidedly far less human.

Dan Fesperman's first two novels were genuinely original. As he's left the Eastern European setting behind, his books have become somewhat more conventional and it must be said that this one owes a significant debt to both John le Carré and even Graham Greene. That said, particularly for an American author, Fesperman reliably produces thrillers on a human scale, in which absolute moral judgements are few and deep pity for human frailty pervades.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, September 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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