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The Secret Soldier (A John Wells Novel) Paperback – February 7, 2012
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From Publishers Weekly
Those who can't get enough post-9/11 novels about a maverick intelligence operative trying to foil yet another Islamic terrorist group bent on cataclysmic mayhem will welcome Berenson's fifth thriller featuring John Wells (after The Midnight House). No longer with the CIA, Wells flies to France to meet a prospective employer, who turns out to be Saudi Arabia's king, Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz. The king fears that his brother Saaed, the Saudi defense minister, is plotting against him to insure that Saaed's 48-year-old son, Mansour, succeeds to the throne. Saaed's scheming has extended to supporting the gunmen who just shot up a bar in Bahrain popular with Americans. Unable to trust his own people, the monarch asks Wells to find out who's behind the terrorists, a hazardous mission that action-hero Wells readily accepts. The plot unfolds along predictable lines in a story arc that Tom Clancy readers or viewers of TV's 24 will find old hat. (Feb.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
John Wells is working freelance, which means that he can choose the jobs he wants to do. It also means that he has to operate without the resources and sanction of the CIA. Here he works for Saudi Arabia�s aging King Abdullah, whose brother Saeed conspires against him�and, by funding terrorists, has unwittingly set the stage for the biggest war yet in the Middle East. Wells and his partner, Brett Gaffan, chase clues in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia as the terrorists pull off two stunning attacks, leaving diplomatic relations strained to the breaking point. Wells isn�t as fascinating as he was in his debut, The Faithful Spy (2006), when undercover work chasing Osama bin Laden had led him to embrace Islam. Now his Muslim faith is perfunctory, his command of Arabic mostly a navigational tool. (Indeed, despite Berenson�s obvious respect for realism, several solutions are arrived at too easily.) But Berenson is still so skillful at setting spycraft against plausible political scenarios, so terrific at creating tension, that he�s top-flight even when he�s not quite at the top of his game. --Keir Graff --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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As The Secret Soldier opens, a Saudi jihadist cell massacres the young people at a popular bar in Bahrain. Simultaneously, two other sites, both inside Saudi Arabia, are attacked, with lethal consequences. These terrorist attacks represent a dangerous threat to the Saudi monarchy. King Abdullah must take action to forestall additional attacks—but he can't trust his own security forces. Enter John Wells.
Now well into his forties and retired from the CIA, soldier-spy John Wells simply cannot resist any opportunity to chase after danger. Together with an old Special Forces colleague, Wells has gone off to chase a rogue CIA agent in Jamaica. Now a mysterious phone call draws him into the orbit of the Saudi royal family.
John Wells has years of experience both as a soldier and a spy. "He knew who he was," Berenson writes, "what he'd done. After so much violence, killing came to him naturally. He'd always imagined that he could take off the killer's mask as he wished. But he feared the mask had become his face."
The scene shifts rapidly from Bahrain to Riyadh to North Conway New Hampshire to Montego Bay and on and on. Berenson's story moves along all across the globe at a blistering pace.
The author writes at some length about the Saudi royal family and the divisions within it. The oil wealth the country's fields generate is difficult to comprehend. As he explains, after all the expenses for running a country that covers almost as much territory as the United States east of the Mississippi, "at least fifty billion dollars remained every year for the family to divide. Every prince received a stipend. Third- and fourth-generation princelings got $20,000 to $100,000 a month. Senior princes received millions of dollars a year. At the top, Abdullah and the other sons of Abdul-Aziz had essentially unlimited budgets. Abdullah's Red Sea palace complex in Jeddah had cost more than a billion dollars." To put this information into perspective, note that the Saudi royal family consists of some 15,000 people, although most of the wealth goes to about 2,000 of them.
Berenson also offers a glimpse into the NSA, which in its early days was known as "No Such," since its very existence was classified. "The NSA monitored phone calls, e-mails, instant messages, Facebook updates—a digital tidal wave. Tens of billions of messages, open and encrypted, were sent every day. The NSA spent massive energy just figuring out which ones to try to crack. At any time, one-third of its computers were deciding what the other two-thirds should do."
Now, that being out of the way I will continue!
John Wells is on the outs with his old service, the CIA. He's basically on his own, which is okay, up to a point. At least he isn't answering to the men who rule from behind desks and have no sense of being in the field, where lives hang in the balance and can turn on a dime. In The Secret Soldier, he is encouraged to hear a sales pitch from someone so powerful and rich that when he asks for $1 million, that is no problem. His curiosity piqued, he flies in luxury to Saudi Arabia and meets with the aging king who cannot trust his own men, or family. He wants his son to become king, but the rules are not that simple. Succession is determined among the king's brothers and there is intrigue in court, plotting against him. He needs an ally, and who better than John Wells? Wells is recommended to him and because Wells had converted to Islam many years ago, the monarch trusts him.
Qaeda is determined to discredit the House of Saud and bring about a holy war that will destroy America.
He is contacted by the Saudi royal family - in fact, the King of the House of Saud. The current King wants to change the line of succession - causing a rift within the family, especially with the brother who feels he should assume the throne.
Terrorist acts, unlikely to be associated with Al Queda are unleashed within the kingdom. For his own reasons the King cannot trust his own security forces. His people contact John Wells. Wells wants something to do that matters and agrees to look into things.
A kidnapping of the American ambassador to Saudi Arabia ratchets up the tension and Wells finds himself in the middle between the royal family and his former employer, the CIA. Worse, his former employer seems reluctant to help him but wants him to find answers.
This book does not flow as smoothly as previous installments. The violence is graphic and sometimes, gratuitous. Too many convenient plot devices. Will read the next book, hoping it is a return to the quality of the beginning of the series. If you follow the series, read the book - but know it is not Berenson's best work.