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The Faithful Spy: A Novel Hardcover – April 25, 2006


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (April 25, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345478991
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345478993
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (324 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #469,680 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

After proving his loyalty in Afghanistan and elsewhere, CIA agent John Wells, the first Western intelligence officer to penetrate the upper levels of al-Qaeda, is assigned a mission on American soil by bin Laden's chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. On his return to the U.S., Wells, now a devout Muslim (for real), finds his years spent in deep cover have left him conflicted. The agency itself seems wary of him—other than Jennifer Exley, the agency analyst who debriefs Wells (aka Jalal) on his return. The scrutiny intensifies when two bombs go off in L.A., killing 300. Berenson, a New York Times correspondent since 1999 who covered the occupation of Iraq, deftly employs the classic staples of spy fiction in his debut novel—self-serving bureaucrats, a beautiful co-worker love interest and an on-the-run hero suspected of being a traitor—then mixes in current terror tropes: car bombs, smuggled nuclear material, and bio-weapons. There's too much introspection from friend and foe alike, but mounting suspense, a believable scenario and a final twist add up to a compelling tale of frightening possibilities. It's not for the squeamish, though: the torture sequences and bombing descriptions are graphic and chillingly real. (Apr. 25)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Two years after U.S. secret agent John Wells infiltrates al-Qaeda, the events of 9/11 call into question his usefulness, if not his loyalty, but he keeps his cover and bides his time, burrowing closer to Osama while sincerely converting to the one true faith of Islam as the years slip by. When al-Zawahiri sends him home at last, it is to serve some undetermined role in a major, multiphase offensive cleverly designed to strike terror in the American heart by unleashing conventional, biological, and nuclear attacks from coast to coast. Berenson works against the inherent sensationalism of his story with a diversity of viewpoints and deft character sketches that avoid oversimplifying the complex beliefs and strategies of his combatants. The plotting is superlative, baffling readers and characters alike as the mastermind behind al-Qaeda's sleeper network wages covert war against a vigilant and resourceful enemy. As with Thomas Harris' Black Sunday (1975) or Joseph Finder's Zero Hour (1996), one could hardly ask for a more skillful, timely, and well-rounded translation of our worst fears into satisfying thrills; a sure bet for fans of Jack Higgins and Vince Flynn. David Wright
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

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.

Customer Reviews

The book is well written and keeps the action moving.
Richard J. Peach
It was just well written, like the author and the characters were telling the story, as opposed to the writer.
B. Franks
This novel was recommended by my son who read the book in 3 days (I finished it in 5 days).
data tech

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

144 of 163 people found the following review helpful By W. A. H. on May 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Phenomenal, addictive, heart-pounding, exciting, interest-grabbing, but not well-writ--okay, it's incredibly well-written too.

VERY well-written.

I won't go into the plot, because all that is written up above.

What I will say though, is that spy novels are not my usual reading. But this one I took a chance on. It was written the way books should be written. It grabs the reader by the throat on page one and steams along at a steady, confident, pace.

Vince Flynn didn't lie when he said this book will have you reading into the night. I've lost a lot of sleep reading this book that refused to let me put it down. Sleep I'll never get back.

And with this book, I didn't mind at all.

If you like the fast-past, constant plot-twisting of 24, then I strongly suggest you pick up this book.

Mr. Berenson's writing is incredible, and the insights of the main character John Wells of the country he left so long ago are all at once biting, and hard to argue with.

The terrorist network is well thought out, the way they operate is utterly believable, and their cunning is horrifying.

This book is the definition of money well-spent. As you're reading this, you'll feel like the third person in the room. You'll feel like you're living all of it. This book is amazing.

For an author's first book this is nothing short of impressive. Hell, for an author's fifth book it would be nothing short of impressive. It's fast, furious, and what any good book should be--a thrill ride.
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50 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 9, 2006
Format: Audio CD
How's this for a scenario? A man, John Wells has given up all he loved - his wife, child, and his parents to become the only American CIA agent to infiltrate Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. He did this before 9/11 and has endured years of privation, living on a dreary, cold plateau in Pakistan. Constantly on guard, he has continually convinced other followers of bin Laden that he is, indeed, a traitor and has become a Muslim.

This sacrifice has been made in an effort to destroy the terrorist network. To date that has not been accomplished. Now, he learns there are plans for more attacks on the United States, assaults even more terrifying than the carnage at the World Trade Center. So, Wells must return home. However, when he appears at Langley, CIA officials have doubts. Can he really be trusted or has he become a turncoat in the intervening years?

One person believes in him and that is Jennifer Exley. It soon becomes clear that they alone must stop al Qaeda from carrying out 2 heinous plan.

Terrifying? Yes. Far too close to what might be the truth for comfort as Berenson, a reporter for The New York Times well knows.

John Heffernan, known as the official voice of the NHL and NFL network, gives a compact, deliberate, totally engrossing reading. His avoidance of any dramatics renders his narrative all the more powerful.

- Gail Cooke
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By K. M. VINE VOICE on September 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover
September 11, 2001 woke America up to facing perils we had previously consigned to other parts of the world and to fiction. Now, a novel like "The Faithful Spy" isn't merely a diversion, a beach thriller to quicken adrenaline for fun. Now, the situations that author Alex Berenson sets in motion and "detonates" one way or another don't float above us in dispassionate entertainment mode only. No, reading about the passengers on a transatlantic flight who suddenly sight military fighters pacing their airliner makes our stomachs clench with sympathetic anxiety and a "but for the grace of God, it might be my flight" thought. As least that was my reaction. And shadowing the title character to his cliffhanger meetings with al Queda members, high-level and low, filled me with cold dread because I don't imagine the real men who follow Bin Laden being much different. John Wells, "The Faithful Spy," and his one-time handler, Jennifer Exley, are people who must balance on a very narrow moral ledge (about matters such as when to "justify" torture and killing) in the name of national security and survival. Their dilemmas are ones that are not and should not be solely fictional. Berenson's reporting experience in Iraq and his understanding of the strategic struggle between the U.S. government and Islamic extremists lends this novel authenticity and valuable insight into our actual geopolitical situation.

"The Faithful Spy" isn't a perfect pulse-pounding novel; it contains certain intervals where the action lags or the plot doesn't coalesce as convincingly as a seasoned reader of this genre might prefer. However, the relatively minor flaws of pacing and storytelling don't diminish the clawing feeling that this book of "fiction" could portend tomorrow's real headlines. God (by any Name) forbid.

This is a remarkable first novel, and I will not miss whatever Berenson decides to write next.
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39 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Wolfgang Zernik on April 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Spy novels at their best can approach great literature. I can give as examples the work of John LeCarre (at least in his younger years) and a personal favorite of mine Alan Furst. But stories like these, set in the Cold War or World War II, deal with an enemy that to some degree at least we understand. Anyone who tries to write a spy novel about the war we are in now, against Islamist extemists, has a much more difficult task since we (at least most of us) do not at all understand our enemy. That is why presumably so few writers have so far attempted to write serious fiction about the current war. Alex Berenson has at least tried. Although this first novel is not completely successful he should be given some credit for his attempt.

The book is in two parts. Part I (The Homecoming King) is just wonderful. The basic idea is original if not easily believable. A CIA agent manages to infiltrate Al Quaeda and then quite sincerely becomes a Muslim without however losing his basic patriotism and loyalty to America. The result is that his CIA bosses no longer trust him while his Al Quaeda bosses do not completely trust him either. He is a man in danger of being lost between two worlds. This part of the book is subtle and nuanced. Berenson describes the psychology of the Islamist fanatics in a way that is credible and deep. I found it not only enjoyable to read but came away with a better understanding of today's headlines. Part I is a real page-turner as other reviewers have noted.

Part II (The Believers) is in comparison very disappointing. Berenson seems to have dropped his literary aspirations and decided to go for the big money and the movie rights. This part of the book, while still well-written, is a standard thriller complete with plot cliches and the required happy ending.
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