David Ignatius has written another political thriller/mystery. It is filled with the cynicism of someone familiar with the current situation of international politics and the espionage community...all intelligence communities lie, it is their job. We can also see the touch of history in here, the same conflicts happening today as yesterday, the same thing that happened to the British is occurring today in their once occupied countries. Ignatius is also an astute observer of human and national nature.
Two matters stand out in this novel, looking through the eyes of the enemy and why he is motivated to act as he does. A brilliant mathematician/computer scientist/professor, "pondered how he might make these assassins feel the same fear that the people of his valley had felt for all these years," after seeing his whole family destroyed by an American drone. There is a bit of sympathy for this person, but he is still presented as a criminal. The other matter is the constant need for subterfuge, the lies of espionage and intelligence communities even within their own ranks, the problems and the necessities to get their job done.
The mystery to be solved is: Where is the leak that is getting agents killed? How do they know where and when these undercover operatives are going to be? This is a political thriller, a mystery that perhaps delves deeper into the seas of the espionage world than they would enjoy.
Where Ignatius shines of course is in describing the actions and methods of the news media. Ignatius, has researched his subject thoroughly, even traveling into these dangerous regions. It is an interesting twist to get inside the head of someone who wishes to kill your countrymen; but even more than that is the fact that the reader can picture and feel and know and empathize with all of the main characters. It is a well written novel that will pull you into its' world.
on June 8, 2011
4.5 Stars: This book works because the spy thriller part -- Sophie Marx is tasked with finding out how someone uncovered the identities of the US' most secret agents -- is just fictional enough that it keeps Bloodmoney from reading like a polemic or another history of the War on Terrorism. Meanwhile, the backdrop for the story is painted with so much detail that the reader actually ends up learning quite a bit about Pakistan and the ongoing War on Terrorism. The book raises important questions about vengeance, cultural understanding, and ending wars, but the author features all viewpoints (terrorist and terrorist hunter alike) so the reader never feels lectured at or bullied.
Regardless of whether the secret, high-tech CIA spinoff part is based on reality, this book shines a light on current events in Southern Asia. Ignatius stood in the shoes of each of the characters instead of having it just be Sophie Marx's narrative. She drives the story in that it's her job to uncover the truth, but the world of Bloodmoney is so messy there really are no clear-cut heroes and heroines. As a result, the reader sees the post-9/11 world from a variety of perspectives: the predator drone survivor, the boy from Waziristan who grew up watching the Americans arm the Taliban, the Western-educated Pakistani general, the warrior whose culture is steeped in vengeance, the old guard CIA, the change agent of a new administration, the foot soldiers operating without a big picture view, the civilian called on to help his country, etc.
The book spans the globe, from the San Fernando Valley to London to Waziristan, and Ignatius describes each setting in vivid detail. The descriptions of places I've been were quite accurate and I was able to clearly see the places I haven't been. Ignatius also incorporates proverbs from various cultures. The sayings in Pashto, Punjabi, Urdu, etc add to the depth and cultural authenticity of the story and are a good way to remind the reader that Pakistan is more than the simplistic description you hear on the news.
I appreciate the author's nuanced approach. Religious extremists, evil empires, and Al Qaeda only have bit parts, which is refreshing. In fact, the man responsible for killing American agents is rarely called a terrorist. The reader gets well-developed characters instead of labels. Additionally, this book never felt too political even though it's steeped in current events.
Minor quibble: I thought this was oddly edited. Unnecessary definitions got in the way of the story ("a flash drive is a portable data-storage device that could be plugged into the USB port of any computer") but an entire paragraph in French was left untranslated. Weird.
Bottom line: What better way to stay on top of world affairs than through a well-written and engaging spy thriller?
on June 6, 2011
This is an intense espionage thriller by a veteran (writer, not military) who knows his stuff. It takes the common American interpretation of what's going on in Pakistan (a la the Osama bin Laden killing) and turns it completely on its head. Following Omar al-Wazir, whose whole family gets obliterated by a Predator drone attack. But it's not a simpleton's lashing out against the big bad mean Americans because the counterpart to the Pakistani rage of injustice is the rogue CIA unit that operates in revenge of the horrific attacks on America.
Ignatius paints a crazy, depressing picture of the situation over in the Middle East that will be fixed in no quick manner. The most superficial question here is whether it is moral to use remote-control drones to take out military targets. Is it a cleaner, less bloody solution? It certainly takes away some of the moral heft of the decision away from the actors, who are no longer participating in the war zone, but instead are up to 10,000 miles away.
Along the lines of sophisticated intelligence fiction like Tom Clancy's work and even a touch of the fascinating political intrigue of the excellent Gods of Ruin: A Political Thriller, BloodMoney will be a great addition to your reading list.
From a writer who should know his subject, here's a book with an interesting and mind-grabbing premise--U.S. drone attacks against the honor/vengeance-driven Pashtun tribesmen of Pakistan will inevitably provoke very serious acts of retribution which continue until personal honor is satisfied. As you read the headlines over the past year (and as recently as yesterday), you can see the probability of a long-running feud with these folks brewing. And so "Bloodmoney" opens with such a strike which hits a family compound in Waziristan, taking out the entire family of a Pakistani scientist who up till that moment has been actively assisting the CIA in its operations against al-Quaeda and the Taliban. An implacable enemy of the U.S. (or at least the CIA) is born on the spot, and within months American operatives begin to fall like dead leaves.
"Bloodmoney" is also a tale of a secret intelligence splinter group that operates with the faintest of mandates from the oval office to stop terrorist groups by paying them off with big bags of cash, but without direction from Mother CIA. It is this group that begins to lose personnel at the hands of the revenge-seeking Pakistani. The rest of the book is about tracking the angry scientist and stopping his warpath to honor.
The book gets off to a good start and has pretty good "bones". But overall, it leans too far in the direction of fantasy for my taste. The characters seemed too often one-dimensional, the dialogue implausible and artificial, and the conclusion muddled and just not fully credible. Under the category of "really annoying"--the first half of the book is overburdened with pithy Pashtun tribal sayings--seemingly one every other page. This device is abandoned almost completely further into the book. Whether you think the local expressions are appropriate in the first place, their relative absence late in the story seems weird. Finally, details--mostly about people--are repeated almost verbatim several times. The repetition isn't necessary and seems out of place. Where was the editor here?
In any event, because the author is a much respected reporter of international events, the reader plunges ahead with this book, hoping it will get more substantive and logical. Unfortunately, it doesn't, and even with the promising start and some decent moments along the way, the ending is a pretty big let down. Sorry to be so critical about this one, but that's my honest assessment.
Washington Post reporter David Ignatius buries deeper any doubt that he is this generation's LeCarre in "Bloodmoney," an uncommonly intelligent espionage thriller and justifiably ambiguous tour through the murky fogs of war and politics in the Middle East. With Pakistan and its uneasy alliance with the US as the backdrop, Ignatius takes a common and tired theme - a rogue US intelligence operation - but infuses this oft-told tale with a convincing cast and an all-too-real plot tangled in culture, ethics, honor and treachery resulting in a fast moving tale that is near impossible to put down.
Sophie Marx is an up-and-coming intelligence officer, and 30-something hottie with street smarts honed by field work in Beirut. Sophie is assigned to "The Hit Parade," an LA-based outfit that ostensibly sells and licenses music, but in fact is merely cover for a deeply dark, off-the-books den of espionage, loosely acknowledged by at least one CIA official - the eccentric Cyrus Hoffman - but mostly under the arms length purview of the White House's Chief of Staff. Sophie's boss is Jeffrey Gertz, a demi-legend within the agency - a former field agent extraordinaire lauded for fearless risk taking and "big heart" speeches of encouragement and admonishment to his troops. All seems to be going well for Sophie and the hot shot Gertz until one of their agents, working undercover as a trader in a wildly successful London hedge fund, disappears in Pakistan, later confirmed to have been tortured and murdered. The operation has hardly had time to investigate the circumstances of his death when a second agent is brutally murdered, making it clear that there is a major breech in the team's security.
As in "Body of Lies" before it, Ignatius masterfully presents a balanced view of the complex political ledger of the War on Terror - this is neither flag-waving Brad Thor bravado nor simpering Hollywood "blame America" pabulum. Rather than obsess on the issues, the author's focus is in the people, on both sides, who actually have to get their hands dirty while putting up with petty and often conflicting agendas from the politicians and bureaucrats who maintain a safe, comfortable, and conveniently deniable distance from the action. Pakistani General Mohammed Malik, head of Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence, is a particularly well-drawn character: noble and nationalistic, and while loyal to his US counterparts, deeply troubled in bridging the obvious conflicts of a Muslim nation's partnership with the US. Likewise, the CIA deputy director Hoffman's character starts slow but ends up stealing the charisma stage. Ignatius's research is credible and compelling, from the washboard mountains of western Pakistan to the inter-mechanics of hedge fund operations. The action builds slowly and surely, suspense ratchets, and very quickly the reader is locked into a compelling page-turner that takes the sharp twists and turns one should expect from the best spy craft fiction.
But aside from the suspense, thrills, and entertainment, David Ignatius cleverly wraps the fun around an important contextual spine of morals and ethics. It is easy to see how wars starts, he argues, but ending them is an issue - an especially troubling when the cultural differences between opposing sides are neither understood nor acknowledged. "Bloodmoney" is an extraordinary novel - one of those must-reads even for those who think they don't like esponiage fiction.
on September 21, 2011
As with so many such writers--Forsyth; Clancy; Berenson; Coonts-- his work has gone downhill. Perhaps the early books receive more polishing and editing and the later ones are rushed out to garner sales.
The characters are paper-thin; the plot is largely implausible--especially the climax; and the writing has a just going through the motions quality. The comments about Pakistani politics and culture are no different from his earlier works and those of other authors.
on June 24, 2011
...as you would have them do unto you" - only do unto them first. There have been accounts in the news about strained relationships between the United States and Pakistan related to intelligence activities, particularly with information that has come to light after Osama bin Laden was killed. There is a relationship between the US and Pakistan at the national level with particular objectives, but not necessarily the same in each country. Each country has relationships with other groups that have other objectives. That creates a spiderweb.
This novel is based on the spiderweb of intelligence activities. On the US side there is the regular CIA and associated activities, but there is also a rogue intelligence group that is operating through the back door. On the Pakistani side, there is their Intelligence Service and there are various tribal and terrorist groups. The Pakistani Intelligence's primary concern is protecting Pakistanis, and that may be in conflict with the primary US concerns.
The novel illustrates aspects of modern warfare that rely on skilled technical people sitting at computers mining data more than soldiers with rifles in the trenches. There are drone attacks with collateral damage - people can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And, in this case, we have some intelligence people who aren't quite sure who they are working for, and "moles" of various sorts within organizations. Watching your back may not be good enough.
Overall, the novel is well written by an author familiar with the territory. You will find yourself drawn into the intrigue, and you may have second thoughts about strangers that you meet or even some people you have known for a long time.
There was one question at the end about what actually happened to all that money, but there were things implied. With large amounts being shifted about electronically, large sums of money can "disappear."
on June 2, 2014
Let me state my prejudice up front: I'm a huge David Ignatius fan, as I've long been a fan of his mother, Nancy's, work on behalf of the National Cathedral in Washington. I place great value on his comments following various events in our current history, though I don't always find myself in complete agreement with his opinions or conclusions. His integrity, his intelligence, his wisdom and insight are never in question.
So it was with eager anticipation that I began to read his novels several years ago. I must say I've learned more about the intricacies of politics in the Middle East from his "fiction" than from dozens of print articles or broadcast media. This book had me almost holding my breath as the plot twisted and turned. It presents a compelling, stunning, and not implausible "shadow CIA" that seems even more believable, given the most recent revelations about our Intelligence community's breadth and depth. His characters reveal not just their strengths, but their weaknesses, their failings, their prejudices - in short, their humanity - as the plots likewise unfold.
I say my "favorite" perhaps because I was in need of an engaging book that was well written, a focus that was entirely new to me, and yet one in which I could just relax and "go with the flow" rather than be edified, despite my appreciation for what I've learned from others of his novels.
Ignatius probably knows as much about the inner workings of the CIA and other national Intelligence operations as any other person outside McLean, and arguably may have a better grasp of "the big picture" than anyone inside or out.
If you want a spy thriller with corpses in various European locales, red herrings amid tantalizing clues, and compelling characters worthy of the plot's twists and turns, then this is a book you'll not want to put down.
on December 24, 2012
"Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage" by David Ignatius is quite well-written, and Mr. Ignatius apparently has excellent credentials and background for penning a story like this. However, the plot fails ultimately, taking down the entire book with it, and here's why.
Problem 1. There is no voice. Not one character emerges as having the book's story to tell, to become the reader's motivation for continued reading -- to bring excitement to and invigorate the tale. All the 5 or 6 primary characters appear rather as equals in the story. Even the heroine and main character, Sophie Marx, shows no heroic features in her persona. I really didn't care if she and the good guys won out in the end or not.
Problem 2. The story is a bit too cute. By that I mean the plot is vague and murky from start to finish. Who are these people? What are they doing? Who's in charge? Why would I care? When do I find out some of the answers to the puzzle of money laundering? The basic set-up of the fake investment company in London to fund the operations of the secret black ops CIA-stepchild agency doesn't fly, and worst of all, the attempted explanations of how it all works (financially) are uber-muddy and not logical, let alone credibly detailed.
Problem 3. The book is too easy to put down and way too difficult to pick up. It took me 3 weeks to read the thing. I would normally read such an international espionage thriller in 3 days or less. Thus, sorry to say, I found no compelling reason to persist in reading it.
Problem 4. The "love story" is not believable - at all. It's just plain silly at its core. Sophie's new love interest (as it works out in the end) may be a brilliant guy, but he's a total boob.
Problem 5. The entire denouement lacks credibility. It all works itself out in about 9 quick pages, unconvincingly and rather unbelievably as well.
All that said, the story has some redeeming characteristics. It is current. That is, the locales, people and the story's raison d'etre make sense in this hateful modern world of terrorist activity by everyone. In addition, most of the descriptions of various locations and situations in which the scenes occur are first-rate, believable and, to my knowledge, accurate. Mr. Ignatius is good at setting the geographical scene and scenery. These scenes somewhat made up for the bad plotting.
To rate this story is a dilemma for me. It's somewhere between a 1 and 3, and probably near 2.25. So that's what I'll give it, a 2, out of sheer frustration with and disappointment in the ultimate total product.
on July 29, 2011
This book seems to be a half baked hybrid between fictional and factual reporting. A factual report - however crude is still thrilling because you know these things really happened, if its fiction, you'd expect interesting and entertaining people and a suspense plot.
The plot reveals itself too early in the book and you keep hoping for a twist that never comes. Characters are not well developed and you don't get attached to them.
Finally I gave this book 2 stars because the setting has incredible opportunity. Pakistan, CIA, and ISI are sufficient to provide for some really interesting elements to play with. But the author made a hash out of it.
Read any Robert Ludlum book and you'll see what a true rich plot looks like.