As a reporter for The New York Times, Alex Berenson has covered topics ranging from the occupation of Iraq to the flooding of New Orleans to the financial crimes of Bernie Madoff. His previous novels include The Faithful Spy, winner of the 2007 Edgar Award for best first novel, The Ghost War, and The Silent Man.
John Wells has been through a lot.
Over the course of his first three missions—chronicled in The Faithful Spy, The Ghost War, and The Silent Man —he’s been shot. Twice. He’s been beaten nearly to death in a prison in Beijing. He’s fought hand-to-hand against Russian special forces soldiers in a cave in Afghanistan. He’s repelled an assassination attempt in a traffic jam in Washington.
And, of course, there was that time he was infected with the plague.
Just writing this list makes me wince a little bit, too. You see, John is real to me—and, based on the e-mail I receive, to lots of readers, too. Unlike a typical action hero, he’s not a human Etch-a-Sketch. He can’t shake himself clean, forget everything he’s seen and done, and wake up ready for his next mission. He has nightmares and fits of depression. Yet he will never give up his roles as protector and—unique to Wells—infiltrator, each of which brings with it specific and intense psychological stresses, and so he has no choice but to soldier on.
Put simply, Wells, like many veterans, has posttraumatic stress disorder. The syndrome has gone by different names over the years: “shell shock,” “the thousand-yard stare,” “combat fatigue.” Most soldiers don’t like talking about it, especially to civilians. And with the help of their families and fellow soldiers, the great majority eventually find a way to put their experiences behind them. But some suffer terribly. The number of suicides in the Army has more than doubled since the Iraq war began, rising from 67 in 2003 to at least 150 in 2009.
So in writing my fourth novel, The Midnight House, I wanted to respect the real-world impact that war has on the men and women who fight it. I hear from soldiers and veterans who read these novels, and who see themselves in Wells. I would hate to betray them by turning him into a comic-book character. And I am very conscious of the trauma Wells has accumulated, both physical and psychic. It’s just not realistic to bring him to the edge of death over and over and expect him to survive. I also wanted to give him a break from killing, to the extent I could. Not that he’s become a pacifist; far from it. But, without giving too much away, he is a detective as much as a soldier in this book, and he tries to avoid using force whenever he can. (In The Silent Man in contrast, he deliberately seeks out revenge even when Jennifer Exley, his then fiancée, asks him not to.)
Don’t worry, though. From start to finish, The Midnight House has plenty of excitement, and the early reviews have been great. Kirkus Reviews called the novel “a superbly crafted spy thriller that doubles as a gripping mystery,” and Publishers Weekly said it is “exceptional” and “compelling.” I hope you’ll agree. And I hope that when you’re done reading, you’ll remember that although John Wells is only as real as the pages (or screens) of these novels, the valor and sacrifice that he represents is alive every day in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in the homes of soldiers and veterans across America.
(Photo of Alex Berenson © Sigrid Estrada)
From Publishers Weekly
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