John Wells was the typical All-American boy. He grew up in Montana playing college ball, had a wife and son, and loved to have a beer now and then. After ten years in the mountains of Afghanistan, he hates America and all she stands for with a passion. He’s a devout Muslim and a foot soldier for al-Qaeda, ready to martyr himself in the name of Allah.
He’s a CIA agent in deep cover…
Al-Qaeda sends him back to America to set up as a sleeper agent and await further orders. After all, he’s American and will blend in.
When he arrives in America for the first time in ten years, we see a man who’s struggling. He has to prove his loyalty to the CIA after falling off the radar and losing contact with them for years. He has to continually prove his loyalty to al-Qaeda operatives who still don’t completely trust him, despite his achievements, now-genuine faith in the Islamic religion, and years in the mountains fighting alongside them. His wife remarried. He can’t see his only son, who only knows his father is a soldier fighting a war. His mother gets and dies from cancer in Montana, shattering his religious faith and affecting his outlook on life. He has to struggle with his own culture, which he has fallen out of touch with, after spending years in the frontier at war. And he has nobody to help him or who truly trusts him, aside from his handler Jennifer Exley, who has kept faith in him despite the years.
I won’t get too deep into spoiling the story, but as a guy who grew up during the war in Afghanistan and on James Bond and other spy thrillers, this is a fantastic page turner. It was always suspenseful, and Berenson never let too much of the story reveal itself too quickly. If you wanted the full story, you really had to read the book to the end to see the cast of characters that would come and go at just the right moments to hint at details to Omar Khadri’s plans for the next big attack on America.
The one thing I’ll say that I really didn’t like during the story was the romantic connection between Wells and Exley. They first met when Wells was in training, operated as agent and handler with a good 4-5 years of zero contact and only cryptic messages sent from the field before that, and suddenly when he’s back in America they have this magnetic attraction like they were long-lost lovers, which felt out of place at times, although it wasn’t really detrimental to the story as a whole.
All in all I liked this book. I haven’t yet found and read the next books in the series, although I’d like to eventually, but this one is one that I’ve read numerous times and I still can find some enjoyment to doing so.