Jul 212014

SHAKE-OFF-cover-660x1024The protagonist, he goes by several aliases, but Michel Khoury appears to be his given name, is a former Palestinian refugee from Lebanon.  His parents were murdered during the Israeli-sponsored massacres in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps.  Stateless and without family he is fathered by a friendly Palestinian who in time teaches Michel the tradecraft of undercover work, but with a twist.  The goal of these Palestinians is to undercut the piecemeal Oslo peace negotiations of the 1990s with a truly comprehensive peace deal between Palestinians and Israelis.  Michel couriers secret messages around the world until he makes the one mistake no spy should ever make.  He falls in love with a British girl.  Khoury’s slow awakening to the entanglement of high stakes espionage he has entered, and how he has unwittingly dragged in his first real love, provides terrific suspense without ever dropping into polemic.  Remarkably, this book eschews diatribe about middle eastern politics while embedding in one of the great political feuds of our time.

Jul 132014

serviceThe war after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq consists of 500,000 broken soldiers, men and women returned to the United States suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI).  Five hundred thousand with invisible wounds to their brains.  Asked to fight in invisible wars that most Americans failed to track, they served two and three rotations against enemies they could not find, but whose specialization in guerilla tactics ensured that our soldiers spent many of their days searching for improvised explosive devices.  They watched their closest friends blown to small pieces, or had their own heads rattled against the roof of an exploding humvee.  And when they could not function any longer they were sent home.  The result, in addition to an ever-increasing rate of post-combat suicide, has been a half million cases of severe depression, unrelenting insomnia, flashbacks, anger, guilt, uncontrollable rage, and anxiety.  This book reduces the painful numbers to a handful of real people struggling to reassemble their lives.  Their plights are heart breaking in large part because Finkel’s writing is so delicately caring and insightful.

Jul 062014

Tears-of-Autumn-McCarryOK, it’s a period piece Spy Novel.  Think Ian Fleming.  Sean Connery.  In this caper, Paul Christopher works for the CIA and he speeds around the world piecing together the hidden culprits behind JFK’s assassination.  Christopher’s hypothesis is Oswald was hired in retaliation for American attacks on prominent Vietnamese families.  I’m not much into Kennedy conspiracies — there seem to be an bottomless well of them — but the book rings true mostly because its author was a spook himself in the CIA.  The craft of 1960s Cold War spying appears realistic even if from our current vantage point it feels like it is being rendered in black and white with a cheesy saxaphone soundtrack.  Vietnam, the Congo, Rome, and Paris are all atmospherically accurate — you can just about taste the Parisian drizzle and can hear the street calls in Saigon — and the characters are about as authentic as any on Mad Men.  I’m not sure anyone who was born after 1980 would get  this book, but if you can recall the 1960s, Tears of Autumn is a nice trot down memory lane. Tears of Autumn is the second novel in the Paul Christopher series.