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Body of Lies: A Novel Hardcover – April 17, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Displaying his trademark expertise and writing skill, Washington Post columnist Ignatius (Agents of Innocence) has crafted one of the best post-9/11 spy thrillers yet. Subtly framing a highly elaborate plot, Ignatius tells the story of idealistic CIA agent Roger Ferris, newly stationed in Jordan after being wounded in Iraq. After a failed initiative to flush out a terrorist mastermind known as Suleiman, Ferris, who's dedicated to forestalling further al-Qaeda attacks, develops an intricate scheme modeled after a British plan used successfully against the Nazis. Ferris's plot to turn the terrorists against each other by sowing seeds of suspicion that their leaders are collaborating with the Americans puts his personal life in turmoil and threatens his professional relationship with the head of Jordanian intelligence. Few readers will anticipate the jaw-dropping conclusion, and the pairing of first-rate espionage suspense with fully developed characters should propel this onto the bestseller lists and possibly attract Hollywood interest. Author tour. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
David Ignatius, journalist and author of Agents of Innocence, has used his vast knowledge of Middle Eastern politics to write one of the most compelling post-9/11 spy thrillers. While creating psychologically deep characters and painting rich portraits of life in Iraq, Jordan, and Syria, he narrates a fast-paced search for a terrorist. A few critics noted, however, that Ignatius bends over backwards not to stereotype his Arab characters (most are wise; few are anti-Semitic), while blatantly criticizing American foreign affairs. Despite these flaws, "One hopes that he has another book in the planning stage and is already filling in form DS-4085, requesting yet more visa pages for his well-worn passport" (Washington Post).
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
The author is horrible on the "love story" components - it ranges from plodding to painful. Yet the love story is such a large portion of the book that it squeezes out the spy story.
And the spy story seems to be warped to favor visuals and dialog over thinking.
The author does not live up to his reputation as a writer of spy stories (from recommendations - this is the first of his books I read). The implausibilities and nonsense are glaring and far too numerous. The love story destroys the pacing of the spy story. The ending is badly forced (both in pacing and content) - it feels like the author was approaching a deadline and decided he had to wrap it up very quickly.
And especially annoying, the author cheats. When you tell a story from the perspective of one of the characters, you can't suddenly start excluding the reader from that character's conversations as a (lazy) way to create suspense. You can't have characters who are experts at keeping secrets (1) randomly reveal that they have a secret and then (2) reveal it to the main character just because he essentially pleads "Aw come on, tell me" a couple of times. This is a lazy - if not contemptuous (of the reader) - way to reveal information, although the demands of a screenplay may dictate such shortcuts. And you can't have a CIA case officer who is repeatedly incurious about significant events.
Because of the author's reputation, the promise of the opening chapters and the intriguing idea (hence two stars rather than one), I got sucked into reading to the end. But I came away feeling not just let down, but cheated and abused by the author.
The book dishonors its two main inspirations (cited by the author in an interview): the WW2 British operation described in the book "The Man Who Never Was: ..." and the Jordanian intelligence operation that caused the Abu Nidal terrorist organization to self-destruct.
Examples that avoid spoilers:
1. The body is presented to the terrorists in a shoot-out in hostile territory in which he - the most important person present - is riding in the only unarmored car in the convoy. Plausible?
2. The "pocket litter" (inherited from "The Man Who Never Was") is poorly thought out. First, many espionage books (fiction and non-fiction) talk about case officers emptying their pockets and doing a complete document shift (Aside: pocket litter was already a known problem in WW2 - movies show aircraft crews were reminded of this). Second: One of the items included on the body was a receipt for a gas purchase. Think: You are a CIA case officer buying gas on the way to the airport to fly to Pakistan. Supposing you even bother to ask the gas pump for a receipt, do you put the receipt in your pocket or in the car's glove box (to deal with when you return)? Everyone I asked picked the later. Or how about leaving it in your hotel room in Pakistan? (Note: pocket litter was important in TMWNW because he was traveling between rear areas and wouldn't have taken the precautions of someone going into combat.)
3. The case officer visits the site of a staged car bombing during preparations. Why? It unnecessarily simplifies making the connection by anyone doing surveillance of him. Furthermore, they evacuate people from the target several _days_ before the attack, greatly increasing the chance of the operation being "blown." Why? The only reason I could figure that that it greatly simplified exposition in the planned movie.
4. The problems with the condition of the body are acknowledged and then ignored. In "The Man Who Never Was", they plan for him to be exposed to the (harsh) elements (both actual and assumed by the discoverers) to obscure evidence it has been in storage. In this book, the body will be seen by the enemy within minutes of his supposed death. It is not credible that they would not notice the difference (blood oozing instead of spurting).
5. The "poison" that the CIA plans to inject into the terrorist organization doesn't seem to fit the bill - it seems to be more of a mild diuretic.
Ignatius' book is neither a total failure nor a total success. His strong suit is plotting and holding together a complex and multi-layered concoction of head games, played out by masters to whom the pawns are readily sacrificed, and dismissed. He is weakest in the love angle, where he becomes trite and predictable, getting precariously near to "sudsy" when the love interest of Alice Melville becomes a major focal point.
Against a mounting background of suicide bombing incidents in Europe, Roger Farris, former journalist and present CIA agent devises a plan to plant a suitable corpse, christened Harry Meeker, where Al Qaeda agents will be sure to find it. Harry is decked out with suitable pocket detritus; and he is properly cuffed to a dossier intended to convince higher ups in the terror pecking order that they have been compromised in the worst possible way. The major target is the elusive Suleiman the Magnificent, a less than humble operating ID for Al Qaeda's principal bombing strategist.
There are plot distractions that demand a fair bit of suspension of disbelief, as when Farris' boss, Hoffman, yanks him back to D.C. from his Jordanian posting, a bit more than seems plausible. This observation particularly applies once the reader has met, and begun to appreciate, the brilliance and guile of Hani Salaam, chief of Jordanian intelligence.
Here I file a complaint that makes me a nitpicker: Hani Salaam is such a meticulous individual that I would have expected a writer to have afforded him more grammatical respect crafting his dialogue. Salaam is such a captivating character that he deserves it.
For insights into spy games, Predator surveillance craft, and a few brilliant instances of double-triple-quadruple cross, "Body of Lies" deserves a reading. Hoffman's computer geek crew, Hani Salaam and Ajit Singh will hold your attention. The rest is a matter of patient forebearance.