The Midnight House (John Wells Series #4)

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Overview

CIA agent John Wells returns in a cutting-edge novel of modern suspense from the #1 New York Times-bestselling writer.

Early one morning, a former CIA agent is shot to death in the street. That night, an army vet is gunned down in his doorway. The next day, John Wells gets a phone call. Come to Langley. Now.

The two victims were part of an eleven-member interrogation team that operated out of a secret base in Poland called the Mid­night House. ...

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The Midnight House (John Wells Series #4)

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Overview

CIA agent John Wells returns in a cutting-edge novel of modern suspense from the #1 New York Times-bestselling writer.

Early one morning, a former CIA agent is shot to death in the street. That night, an army vet is gunned down in his doorway. The next day, John Wells gets a phone call. Come to Langley. Now.

The two victims were part of an eleven-member interrogation team that operated out of a secret base in Poland called the Mid­night House. For two years, they put the screws to the toughest jihadis, men thought to have knowledge of imminent threats. The interrogators used whatever means necessary. When they were disbanded in the wake of public controversy, they were given medals for their heroism, Prozac for their nightmares. Now Wells must find out who is killing them. Islamic terrorists are the likeliest explanation, and Wells is uniquely qualified to go undercover after them. But the trail of blood he discovers will lead him and his boss, Ellis Shafer, to a place they wouldn't have imagined-and leave Wells facing the hardest of questions about the men of the Midnight House.

Berenson's work has been called "superior entertainment" (The Washington Post), "heart-stopping adventure" (USA Today), and "a superb yarn reflecting the myriad dangers confronting our country today" (The Providence Journal). He is one of the world's best new thriller writers-and he is just getting started.

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Editorial Reviews

Casey Cep
…[a] bullet-paced, psychologically engaging tale of torture and espionage…Berenson explores the realities of war and terror as assiduously as he does the personal dramas of politics and civilian life. A master juggler, he tosses in a few corrupt national intelligence agencies and the conspiracy-laden assassination of Benazir Bhutto without slowing his pace or stalling his shocking conclusion.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
After saving New York City in 2009's The Silent Man, CIA agent John Wells, the hero of bestseller Berenson's exceptional espionage series, retreats to rural New Hampshire in his compelling fourth outing. He hikes and thinks, accompanied only by his dog, Tonka, but soon enough, John hears from Ellis Shafer, “his sort-of boss at the agency,” who calls him back to Washington, D.C., for a new assignment. An unknown assassin is targeting members of Task Force 673, a now-disbanded secret unit whose job was interrogating terrorists, in particular “high-value detainees,” by any necessary means. Five of the 10-person squad are missing or dead, with the rest in mortal danger. In his pursuit of the killer, John encounters all manner of political intrigue, including convoluted plots set in motion by agency chiefs vying for control of America's security apparatus, who rely on low-level field spies to carry out their various and bloody plans. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Berenson's (The Faithful Spy) latest ingeniously plotted and fast-paced story again offers superspy John Wells, who is called upon by shifty CIA superiors to investigate the systematic murders of members of a now-disbanded supersecret interrogation team known as the Midnight House. Our well-equipped hero deduces that both the dead interrogators and agency executives harbored an extraordinarily dangerous political secret as well as participated in various forms of financial corruption. The story features emotionally affecting and high-action scenes in vividly portrayed settings; memorable characters contribute to the reader's comprehension of how the CIA's overseas "rendition" program may have been of enormous benefit to national security but also grossly immoral and personally destructive to its participants, terror suspects and interrogators alike. VERDICT Arguably Berenson's best thriller yet, this outstanding novel stands on the top rung of commercial spy fiction. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/09.]—Jonathan Pearce, California State Univ. at Stanislaus, Stockton
Kirkus Reviews
Superspy and serial country-saver John Wells (The Silent Man, 2009, etc.) seeks to uncover the truth about a string of murdered operatives from a top-secret unit. Last seen stopping an Islamist plot to detonate a nuclear device in Washington, D.C., CIA agent Wells is called back to duty from a rest period in New Hampshire by his grouchy but loveable Agency handler Ellis Shafer. It seems CIA head Vincent Duto, with whom Wells has repeatedly butted heads, wants them to look into a string of suspicious deaths. The victims are all veterans of Task Force 673, which operated out of a covert detention facility in Poland. The two start poking around, Wells in Egypt disguised as a Kuwaiti activist, Shafer on the domestic front. Eventually, they begin to suspect that not only might a string of former captives want the members of 673 dead, but so too might some in the U.S. intelligence establishment who have reason to fear the consequences if the truth about what 673 was up to comes to light. The stakes are much lower than Berenson's usual here-no plot to detonate a major U.S. city-but the novel as a whole and Wells' character in particular benefit from the additional breathing room. Any fictional CIA agent would do whatever it takes to prevent a known terrorist attack, but here we see how far Wells is willing to go to discover the truth for its own sake. After all, a man can only save the country from destruction so many times before he begins to look like a character in a comic book. A superbly crafted spy thriller that doubles as a gripping mystery; the reader has no idea who the killer is until Wells figures it out.
Publishers Weekly
George Guidall's no-nonsense tough guy growl adds a sense of hard-boiled reality to this fourth adventure featuring coolly efficient CIA agent John Wells. Working with his considerably more emotional associate, Ellis Shafer, Wells investigates the assassinations of interrogation team members working on a group of jihadists at a secret location known as the Midnight House. Berenson switches from Wells's and Shafer's difficult and perilous search, which takes the former to and from Cairo, to a sequence of flashbacks involving the team members going about their grim job at the House. The result is a clever mix of detective story and spy thriller, with Guidall handling the chronological and genre shifts as smoothly and efficiently as he does the changes in accents. A Putnam hardcover (Reviews, Dec. 7). (Feb.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101154601
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA), Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/9/2010
  • Series: John Wells Series , #4
  • Format: MP3
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Ships to U.S.and APO/FPO addresses only.

Meet the Author

Alex Berenson

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, and The Ghost War. He lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

PROLOGUE ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN. JUNE 2008

"To the worst place in the world."

"The worst place in the world."

George Fezcko and Dwayne Maggs raised their glasses and drank. The going-away party was over. One by one, the ops had said their good-byes and disappeared. Only Fezcko and Maggs were left. Fezcko, the guest of honor, leaving Pakistan after four years as deputy chief of station. And Maggs, his best friend at the agency.

The clock on the wall said 1:30, and they'd been drinking since dinner, but Fezcko felt solid. Maggs had gotten hold of a half-dozen Omaha steaks and two racks of ribs. The meat had soaked up most of the scotch in Fezcko's belly.

Though not all. Fezcko put his head against the cool wood of the conference table and hummed tunelessly: " 'We few, we ragged few, we motley crew…' " He trailed off. He couldn't remember the rest of the song, or even if there was a rest of the song.

"Mötley Crüe," Maggs said. "Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap."

"That's AC/DC."

"Marine recon, too."

"Why does it always go back to the marines? By now everyone in this country knows you're a jarhead. All one hundred fifty million." Fezcko tapped Maggs on the forehead. "Tattoo it right there. The few, the proud, the stupid."

"You wish you coulda been a marine," Maggs said. "Berkeley boy. You wouldn't have made it through the first week of basic. Eaten up and spat out."

Maggs was the station's director of security. He was short and wide and strong, arms as big as an average man's legs. Fezcko had thinning curly hair and wild black eyes. In college he'd played bass for a band that had almost broken out. They shouldn't have gotten along. But they did.

"A marine? I wish I coulda been Tom Brady."

"The Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Land of the free, home of the suicide bomber. Bet you miss it already," Maggs said.

"What's not to miss? The earthquakes. The weather. The fifteen pounds I put on 'cause it's too hot to run outside." Fezcko poked at the belly he'd gained.

"Can't blame Paki for that. That gym in the basement is pretty good. As you'd know if you ever visited."

"I like to run outside."

"How about the women? Those beautiful Paki women."

Fezcko sipped his scotch. "Black-and-blue with the ugly stick," he said. "I never should have let Marci divorce me. Maybe if our security officers didn't lock us in the embassy all the time, maybe then we'd find out what those burqas are hiding. Can't even go down the block to the Marriott for a going-away party. It's a Marriott, for God's sake."

Indeed, because of the risk of terrorist attacks, the agency barred employees in Pakistan from gathering at hotels and restaurants. Maggs had refused to make an exception, even tonight.

"Don't mind getting you killed, but there's got to be a reason," Maggs said. "You know better than me, they aim for that Marriott once a month. I know who you're gonna miss. The army and the ISI"—the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the Pakistani secret police. Between them the two services more or less ran Pakistan.

"The army and the ISI. The ISI and the army. I'll tell you something about the ISI and the army."

"Yeah. Give me the speech. With feeling. Like I haven't heard it a hundred times before."

"The Egyptians, the Saudis, when they lie to you, they do it with a smile. Pour you tea, tell a story that takes an hour, and when they're done you're about ready to fall for whatever they're spinning. These guys, they just yell, like if I give you this nonsense at high volume it won't sound so ridiculous. They aren't all bad, maybe, but most of 'em…"

"Remember when they won that cricket match and almost burned down Karachi?"

Fezcko looked into his glass. "You really think Paki's the worst place in the world?"

"Somalia's bad."

"Worse than this?"

"Hotter. And blacker."

"You think you can say that just 'cause you're black? Insult your African cousins?"

Maggs smirked. "I can say it because I'm a marine."

"Let's drink to Somalia, then," Fezcko said. "The even-worse worst place in the world."

"Somalia. See you there."

"Three years. It'll be like that movie with the French chick—"

"I always knew you were gay, George—"

Fezcko struggled for the memory lurking in his alcohol-fogged brain. "Ethan Hawke. Julie Something— "

"Gayer by the second."

"Before Sunrise," Fezcko said triumphantly.

AND THEN HIS PAGER buzzed.

He pulled it off his waist, squinted at it. The scotch had blurred his eyes, and he didn't recognize the numbers. Then he did. 36963. Code for "call me now" from Nawiz Khan, a division chief for the ISI. Fezcko slid the pager across the table to Maggs.

"Nawiz?" Maggs said. "Wants to wish you good-bye."

Fezcko didn't trust the ISI, but he did trust Khan, since a blown raid in Peshawar two years back. He and Khan had had to shoot their way out of an apartment. Khan took a round in the left thigh that night. He still favored the leg.

Fezcko stood, feeling the steak and the ribs twist in his gut, and headed down the hall, shielding his eyes from the fluorescent lights. He touched his thumb to the fingerprint reader beside the door of his office. Inside, he sat down heavily on the edge of his desk and called Khan.

Who answered after a single ring.

"Fezcko," Khan said, somehow making the name sound glamorous. The years he'd spent at university in London had given him a soft English accent.

"Nawiz?"

"May I speak freely?"

"You asking if this line is secure? Yeah, it's secure."

"Also if you are as drunk as you sound."

Fezcko laughed. "Not quite. Though it's been a long night."

"It has been a long night for me as well, George. But I have some thing you will want to see."

"Something or someone?"

"Both."

"Big?"

"If you're asking me, am I in line for your fifty million dollars"—the CIA's reward for the capture of Osama bin Laden—"the answer is no. But my friend, I wouldn't have called at this hour if this wasn't worth your while. You may want to let your CT team know as well."

CT was agency lingo for the practice known publicly as extraordinary rendition. The letters stood for "collection and transfer," snatching suspected terrorists from their home countries and holding them in American custody.

"My CT team," Fezcko said. "That's me and Maggs. As you know."

"My men will make the arrest, then. And I will give them to you as a going-away present."

" 'Them'? What are you doing to me, Nawiz?"

"The question you should be asking me is what am I doing for you?"

"We gonna need a G-five for this?" A Gulfstream V jet, capable of carrying a dozen passengers halfway around the world without refueling, and thus the preferred method of transport for renditions.

"I think so. These men, it's best if they leave Pakistan."

"Man. You couldn't have given me a little notice? I need an hour, make some calls."

"And drink some coffee."

"That, too."

"One hour. No more."

"One hour."

BUT NINETY MINUTES PASSED before Fezcko and Maggs rolled out the side gate of the embassy in a black Nissan sedan. The car looked stock, but its windows were bullet-resistant and its doors were reinforced with steel plates. It wasn't as sturdy as the armored Suburbans that the ambassador and the chief of station preferred, but it would stop an AK round and it didn't attract attention.

In the passenger seat, Fezcko tried to rest, while his bodyguard, an ex-Ranger with the unlikely name of Leslie, drove. Maggs was in the back, playing a driving game on his iPod, his preferred method of relaxation before a mission. He seemed to have sobered up immediately. Fezcko wished he could say the same. Even after three cups of coffee, he was hardly in peak form. Before he left, he had gotten a definite maybe for a rendition from Josh Orton, the assistant chief for the Near East Section.

"I'm going to need more details," Orton had said, from his desk seven thousand miles away at Langley.

"You think?"

"Don't get pissy with me, George. You know the rules." Since 2006, the agency had become much more reluctant to authorize renditions, although they still took place.

The Nissan swung out of the Diplomatic Enclave, the high-security zone in eastern Islamabad that was home to the American embassy and other foreign missions. The night air was surprisingly cool for June. A breeze fluttered through the trees along Constitution Avenue.

After Pakistan gained independence in 1947, its military leaders decided to create a new capital city that would be easier to control than Karachi, the original capital. The result was Islamabad, a million-person city that Pakistanis called Isloo. With its boulevards, parks, and office towers, Isloo wasn't a bad place to live, at least compared to the rest of Pakistan. The city reminded Fezcko of Charlotte, his hometown—though Charlotte didn't have a mosque that could hold three hundred thousand worshippers.

The Nissan turned southwest on Nazimuddin Road, leaving the Diplomatic Enclave behind. Rather than giving names to the neighborhoods, Islamabad's planners had divided the city into zones identified by numbers and letters. Sixty years later, the system had stuck. Fezcko and Maggs were headed for the I-10 zone, a lightly built area on the southwestern edge of the city.

Fezcko's phone trilled.

"Are you standing me up?"

"Nawiz, please. We're on the way." Fezcko hung up, wondering at the urgency. Khan wasn't a nervous guy.

Ten minutes later, the Nissan pulled up outside an unfinished concrete building. A rusting white sign identified the shell as the "Future Center of the All-Pakistan Medical Commons." As Fezcko stepped out of the Nissan, the building's steel front door creaked open. A trim middle-aged man limped out toward him.

"Salaam alekeim, Nawiz."

"Alekeim salaam." They hugged, clapping each other tightly on the back.

"If I didn't know better, I'd think you were friends," Maggs said.

"Come," Nawiz said. "I'll show you your going-away present."

INSIDE, A BIG OPEN ROOM with a floor of hard-packed dirt. The air thick with dust and the stink of diesel smoke. A noisy generator powered strings of Christmas tree–sized white bulbs tacked to the walls, giving the place a strangely festive feel. In the corner opposite the generator, two men played checkers on a cheap folding table. Three more napped at their feet.

"Your crack team," Fezcko said.

"Merely conserving their energy." Khan handed Fezcko a long-lens photograph of a truck, a Mitsubishi ten-wheeler, the cab metallic blue with a spiffy beige stripe painted horizontally beneath the windshield. "Abu Zaineb Textile Manufacture (PVT) Ltd" was stenciled in black on the cargo compartment.

"Nice truck," Fezcko said.

"Such insight. I see why you've been promoted."

"Is Abu Zaineb Textile real?"

"We can't find the name. Though that's not dispositive, you understand."

" 'Dispositive,' " Maggs said. "Mighty big word for a Paki."

Khan waved off Maggs and handed Fezcko another photo, this one centered on a pair of men standing beside the truck. One wore a white salwar kameez, the long tunic and pants favored by many Pakistani men. The other was younger and dressed Western-style, in jeans and a red T-shirt that, strangely, had a Batman logo stamped on its front.

"You know them?"

Fezcko shook his head.

"This one." Khan pointed to the man in the salwar kameez. "His name is Asif Ali. He is a cousin of Jawaruddin."

Jawaruddin was Jawaruddin bin Zari, a thirty-four-year-old from Peshawar who was wanted for numerous terrorist attacks, including four bombings in Peshawar and the killing of two American aid workers in Karachi. He was a member of a terrorist group called Ansar Muhammad that had first turned up in 2006. In Arabic, ansar literally meant patrons, or supporters, but the word was usually translated as warriors—in this case, the warriors of Muhammad. The CIA didn't know much about Ansar Muhammad, though the agency had picked up hints of connections between the group and the ISI. Some analysts at Langley believed the ISI was using the group to carry out anti-American attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In any case, bin Zari was a high-value target. Capturing him would be a coup for the agency, at least until his successor popped up.

"Asif 's an actual cousin? Or more like a good friend?"

"You've reached the limits of my knowledge, George. He was introduced to my men as a cousin. We didn't perform a DNA test."

"And he's part of Ansar Muhammad?"

"Based on what I'm about to show you, it seems likely."

"What about the other guy? Batman?"

"We don't know. Probably a driver."

Khan handed across a third photo, this one focused on the Mitsubishi's cargo compartment, which was filled with oil drums and plastic sacks. A fourth photo focused on the sacks, which were stamped "Highest-Quality Nitrogen Fertilizer." Khan didn't have to explain further. Ammonium nitrate and fuel oil were the basic ingredients for truck bombs.

"These were taken where?"

"Peshawar." Khan lifted his eyebrows, as if to say Where else? "Two days ago. My men learned that Asif Ali would be at a restaurant. They followed him, took these photos. Dumb luck."

"Your men learned how?"

"The usual way. A friend of a friend of an enemy."

"That like a cousin?" This from Maggs.

"I'd like some details on the sourcing," Fezcko said.

Khan lifted his shoulders a fraction of an inch: Too bad.

"Where's the truck now?"

"Approximately fifteen hundred meters"—about a mile—"from here. It arrived yesterday. I had hoped that bin Zari or someone at his level might visit the operation in person. But I think now that moment has passed. And I think we ought to move quickly."

Fezcko understood. The ISI was so ridden with Qaeda sympathizers that it was only a matter of time before the terrorists learned that Khan and his men were tracking them. Most likely very little time.

"Heck of a nice truck. Shame to blow it up. You know the target?"

"We're all targets, George. Terrorism hurts us all." Khan moved his lips, pretending to smile. "Roderick White arrives tomorrow for meetings with our president. He seems a likely candidate."

Fezcko rubbed his forehead, wishing his going-away party had been some other night. How had he forgotten that Sir Roderick White, the British foreign minister, was coming to Islamabad? "That sounds ambitious."

"You know our friends are optimists. And even if they don't reach him, they know that whatever they do will get extra attention tomorrow."

"Maybe they'll have help to get through a checkpoint or two." Fezcko didn't have to specify that the help would be coming from inside the ISI. "Who else knows about this, Nawiz?"

"Omar is the only one I've told." Omar Gul, an assistant director in the ISI's Counter-Terror Division. Sometimes known at Langley as the "Counting on Terror" Division. The CIA viewed Gul as the only reliable officer in the top ranks of the ISI, not least because he'd survived three assassination attempts in four years, the last of which had cost him his right eye.

Fezcko saw why Khan was so anxious to move. "You want to do this now. Get them out before the sun comes up. You and Omar are the only ones who know. Tomorrow, the next day, you come back on that truck, a big show. It's empty, and you tell your buddies that the bad guys disappeared."

Khan nodded.

"Then whatever we get from them, maybe even some names inside your shop, nobody knows but you."

Another nod.

The plan was at least one step past risky. Maybe all the way to stupid. Renditions usually required approval from senior-level officials on both sides. Now Khan wanted to grab two men on the fl y. They weren't in some village on the North-West Frontier, either. They were five miles from the Pakistani parliament. If something went wrong, if they got caught tonight, the Pakistani government wouldn't be able to ignore what had happened. Khan would go to jail. There would be anti-American riots.

If anyone but Khan had made the offer, Fezcko would have rejected it outright for fear of a trap. But he trusted Khan. And the deal was tempting. Anything they could do to clean up the ISI would be valuable.

"We don't have a plane in country," Fezcko said, trying to buy time. "Where will we keep them?"

"Here."

"No problem getting them out?"

"Not if you get a jet in today to Faisalabad." A city about 150 miles south of Islamabad.

Fezcko nodded at Maggs. They stepped to the other side of the room. "Thoughts?" Fezcko murmured.

"Nothing you don't know."

"Too good to be true? Setup?"

"Not from him. You know my rule."

Maggs's rule was that you couldn't trust anyone in the ISI until he'd taken a bullet next to you. It was a good rule. And just like that, Fezcko decided. "All right," he yelled over the generator to Khan. "We're in. Let me see about that G-five." And some authorization, he didn't add. For this operation, winks and nods wouldn't do. He wanted explicit approval, in writing.

Behind the building, he called Orton on his sat phone.

"I was hoping it wouldn't be you," Orton said.

"Am I interrupting you, Josh? Gotta pick up the kids from soccer practice? Maybe a manicure?"

"Just tell me."

Fezcko did.

"Tricky," Orton said. "If the ISI isn't going to know about it, we're going to have to keep this one quiet. There's only one place for them to go. And that takes special authorization. Have to call the Pentagon."

"No excuses," Fezcko said. "Yes or no." He hung up.

WHILE THEY WAITED, they grabbed body armor and M-4s from the Nissan and suited up. Khan and his men did the same, though their own gear was less fancy, vests and AK-47s. When they were done, Khan's squad packed into a windowless white van tucked behind the building and rolled off. Fezcko and Maggs and Leslie followed in the Nissan.

The Mitsubishi truck was easy to find, parked beside a Toyota 4Runner in front of a two-story concrete house in a district that mixed residential and light manufacturing. The house had a strangely Art Deco look, lime-green with a white roof. It belonged in Miami, not Islamabad, though Fezcko had seen similar color schemes in Pakistan before. Splashy paint jobs grabbed attention from cracked ceilings and leaky pipes. The house seemed deserted, no lights or movement inside. There were walls along the property lot but none in front.

They rolled by without slowing. To the west, the city petered out. A mile down, Khan's van parked behind a tall brick warehouse. Khan stepped out, tapped a cigarette out of the flat silver case he carried. He lit up, dragged deeply, exhaled twin jets of smoke from his nostrils.

"You blow any harder you'll have liftoff," Maggs said.

"Let me guess," Khan said. "Marines smoke three cigarettes at once. Because one at a time wouldn't be manly enough."

Fezcko laughed. "Now you're getting it, Nawiz."

"So that's the place," Maggs said.

Khan nodded.

"Anybody watching it?"

"My men installed a PTD"—a presence tracking device, also known as a bug—"on the truck in Peshawar. Two of my men are monitoring it." Khan tilted his head toward the second floor of the warehouse, where a cigarette glowed behind a window. "The truck hasn't moved since they arrived yesterday."

"Who owns the house?" Fezcko said.

"Property records show it belongs to a family that lives in Karachi. We don't know if they're connected or if they even know it's being used."

Khan unrolled an oversized map, a street-by-street grid of the district. The map's corners rolled up, and Khan's men grabbed bricks to weigh it down.

"High-tech," Fezcko said.

"My Predators are in the shop." Khan circled the target house in red Magic Marker, and for fifteen minutes he walked his squad and Fezcko through the raid. The plan was simple, based on simple assumptions: that the doors of the house wouldn't be reinforced or booby-trapped, and that they would be facing at most four men inside. Khan's squad would handle the main assault, breaking through the front door and firing gas grenades to flush out the men. Fezcko's team would circle the house, wait for the jihadis to escape through the back door. If they didn't come out in sixty seconds, Fezcko and Maggs would go in the back.

When Khan was done, Fezcko pulled him aside.

"Too many guesses, Nawiz. If this gets ugly, we're underpowered. No radios. Layout's a mystery. This is how you get hurt."

Khan wrapped an arm around Fezcko's shoulders, put his face to the American's ear as if he planned to whisper a declaration of love eternal. "Are you walking, George? Taking your ball and going home? Tell me now so I don't waste more time. We have to do this before the sun comes up. Go on back to Langley. Another American hero."

In the cool night air, Fezcko felt himself flush. A cheap shot, sure, but there was truth behind it. His tour here was done. Khan's would never be over. He pushed Khan off, less than a shove but more than a friendly tap, and walked away. The soft, brown mud of the parking lot sucked at his boots, and he tried not to wonder whether the soil was a metaphor for the quagmire of the endless war on terror. He stood behind a corner of the warehouse and called Langley. "Anything yet?"

"The good news is the plane's in the air," Orton said. "The bad news is that the DDO's not happy. But I have a conditional okay."

"Conditional on what?"

"On your certifying that there's imminent risk of attack."

The message from Langley was clear: Right back atcha. You want to play cowboy, go ahead, but don't expect us to cover your ass from eleven time zones away on an hour's notice. "Can you say career ender?" Fezcko mumbled into the night.

"What?" Orton said.

"I said put it in writing. My name."

"George—"

"Whatever you have to do. Do it." Fezcko hung up, barely resisting the urge to smash the Iridium handset into the mud.

THE RAID WENT BAD before they even reached the house.

When Fezcko nodded to Khan, they pulled on their gas masks and grabbed their gear and rolled out east over the rough asphalt at eighty miles an hour. The house waited for them, still and silent.

Then the lights inside flickered on. Fezcko felt as if he'd been punched. He wondered if they should abort, but it wasn't his call. Anyway, letting the guys in the house get to the truck would be a very bad idea.

Khan's van swung off the road and stopped a few yards from the front door. The van doors opened, and Khan's squad jumped out. The two biggest men carried a knocker, a thick steel pipe with handles attached.

Khan's men sprinted for the house, Khan hobbling behind on his bad leg. Then the stuttering recoil of an automatic rifle sounded from the roof and the officer in front of Khan stumbled down.

"So much for surprising them," Fezcko murmured inside his mask. Adrenaline had burned through the last of the scotch in his blood. He felt alert and ready. Alive. He'd have a story for the grandkids at least. I ever tell you about my last night in Pakistan? Assuming he survived, of course. He slipped out of the Nissan, knelt behind the door. Rounds smashed into the window, and Fezcko was glad for the car's armor. Where's the shooter? Find the shooter. Based on the angle, the guy was on the right side of the roof, close to the corner.

Fezcko leaned around the door, raised his M-4, fired a four-shot burst at the front corner of the roof, trying to push the guy back. In the brief calm that followed, the wounded ISI agent pushed himself up and hopped toward the safety of the van.

Khan's men smashed the knocker into the front door. It shook but held. Fezcko wondered if it was reinforced.

Now the men inside the house were firing jihadi specials, long bursts on full automatic that tore through the night and shattered the front windows. The racket sounded impressive, but the shots were basically unaimed, and Khan's men stayed cool. Again they rammed the knocker into the door. This time it gave a couple of inches. Now they had a rhythm going, bang, bang, bang, a horizontal drumming—

The door twisted sideways and gave. Fezcko caught a brief glimpse of a green-painted room inside, before the lights went out. Khan and his men huddled around the front door.

Fezcko lifted his mask. "Stay here," he yelled to Leslie. "Watch the front door, make sure nobody gets out this way. Take out the shooter on the roof if you can."

"But—"

"Stay. That's an order." He looked at Maggs. "Back door!" he yelled. He lowered his mask and sprinted along the side of the house, keeping his head down. A window exploded over his head. He half dove, half fell, grunting as he banged an elbow against the side of the house. Clods of dirt covered the plastic face shield of his mask. Rounds thudded into the wall above him and shards of concrete cascaded down. How many guys were in there, anyway? Did they have grenades?

Fezcko grabbed for the CS grenade on his belt, pulled the pin. He lifted the handle and tossed it through the steel bars of the blown-out window above his head. If things got worse, they would have to forget taking anyone alive and just smoke the place. Maggs ran by, doubled over but somehow staying on his feet. Fezcko wiped off his face shield and scuttled after him.

Inside the house, men shouted at one another in Pashto. A man yelled "Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!" and a long burst from an AK ripped through the night.

The left-rear corner of the house had a square notch cut into it, offering cover from the side and back walls. Fezcko hid in the notch and peeked around the corner. The rear of the house was unpainted and unfinished. The property sloped down from front to back, so the back door was a couple feet off the ground. There were no stairs. Anyone inside would have to jump out. But for now, the back door was closed. Beside the door, thick plastic sheeting covered a window frame. As Fezcko watched, rifle fire tore apart the plastic and a trail of CS gas leaked out. Someone coughed viciously, stopped, and then coughed again steadily.

Then the back door swung open. A man peeked out. Not one of Khan's squad. A jihadi. He leaned forward, craned his head left and right, but Fezcko and Maggs were hidden in the notch and he didn't see them. He jumped out, stumbled, righted himself, and began to run across the back lot. He was barefoot and wore a jean jacket and sweatpants. No gun, as far as Fezcko could tell.

Maggs stepped out and raised his rifle. Fezcko pushed it aside.

"Alive." They sprinted after him.

The jihadi ran for a gate at the back-left corner of the wall. He tugged it frantically as Maggs and Fezcko closed on him. Locked. He tried to climb over, but he was big and slow. Maggs jumped up, tugged him down, threw him onto his stomach. Fezcko put a knee on his shoulders and pushed his head down into the dirt. Maggs pulled his arms behind his back and cuffed them. Then Maggs straddled his legs and cuffed his ankles together.

"Hog-tie?" Maggs said.

"Do it."

Maggs pulled off his belt, thick black leather, and ran it between the two sets of cuffs and tied it so the prisoner was on his belly with his legs and arms leashed together. Fezcko gave the guy a quick dose of CS in the eyes. He howled at them in Arabic and blinked furiously. Tears streamed down his cheek. Given enough time, he might figure out a way to slip off the belt. But even then he'd have his arms and legs cuffed. And with his eyes on fire, he'd have a tough time going anywhere.

SO THEY LEFT HIM in the corner, yelling, and ran to the house and took up positions by the back door. The door was swinging free. Fezcko grabbed it and pinned it against the outside wall and peeked inside. He couldn't see anyone, just construction materials, wood and bricks and cartons of tiles. Then the quiet scraping of a man trying not to cough. He seemed to be on the left side, hidden behind a half-finished wall.

Maggs sent a CS grenade skittering into the room like a duckpin bowling ball. White smoke filled the room like dry ice rolling onto the dance floor at a sweet sixteen, and the coughing started again, harder this time. Maggs pointed into the room and then at himself: I'm going in. Cover me. Fezcko held up three fingers, two, one. He swung his rifle into the doorway and fired three shots into the darkness.

Maggs levered himself up, jumped inside, ran for the coughing man. As he did, four shots, small-caliber, echoed inside the room. Maggs shouted in pain, the exclamation muffled through his mask, and thumped down.

Fezcko double-checked the seal on his mask, jumped inside. A round crashed into the wall beside him. Damn it. He dropped to the floor, tried to get oriented through the smoke. He could hear the guy coughing but not see him. Maddening.

He crawled across the room and lay next to Maggs, who pointed at his right leg. Blood puddled underneath the calf. Maggs made a snapping motion with his hands, indicating that the shot had broken his fibula, or his knee, Fezcko couldn't tell. Fezcko pointed toward the door—Let's go; we'll wait him out—but Maggs shook his head.

Then something dark flew out of the white smoke, twirling toward them—

Grenade

Fezcko tried to squirm away—

And realized he was looking at a pistol. The gun clattered at his feet. He grabbed it, racked the slide, checked the clip. Empty.

A man stood up, wraithlike through the smoke, hands in the air. Maggs raised his M-4 and was about to shoot, but Fezcko pushed the gun down. The man coughed violently, his body shaking with each breath. He stepped toward them slowly, one hesitant foot after the next. He was surrendering. Either that or trying to get close enough to them to blow a suicide-bomb belt. But the belts were thick and obvious, and this guy was wearing only a T-shirt. So Fezcko let him get within five feet and then popped up and grabbed him.

He shoved the guy out the back door and wrestled him down to the pebbled lot behind the house. The guy landed face-first, and all the air went out of him. Fezcko grabbed his bushy black hair and ground his face into the rocky soil. Then he chopped the guy three times in the neck for what he'd done to Maggs. Also to make sure he wouldn't be any trouble. Though the guy didn't look like much of a threat. He was shaking, and a trail of spittle covered his thin black beard. And he was young, maybe seventeen. But he had been popping off at them with that snubnose.

Fezcko patted the guy down and flex-cuffed his ankles so he couldn't run and turned back to grab Maggs. But Maggs had already crawled out and was leaning against the side of the house on his good leg. The smoke inside was thinning, and the action had eased. No one was shooting, and the ISI men were yelling at one another in Punjabi as they cleared rooms on the second floor.

Fezcko pulled off his mask. "How's your leg?"

Maggs shrugged.

"No marine crap," Fezcko said. "If you're bleeding out, I'd like to know."

"I'll live. Lucky my running-back days are over," Maggs said. "And lucky he only had a .22. Shoulda let me shoot him."

"Next time."

In the corner of the lot, the second captive lay on his stomach. The guy's nose and mouth were foaming, and Fezcko wondered if he'd gone overboard on the CS. He pulled off Maggs's belt and dragged the prisoner to his feet. The guy's face was slack, his eyes wild and red. Fezcko mopped him up with a corner of his shirt. And realized he was looking at Jawaruddin bin Zari.

HE FROG-MARCHED bin Zari to Maggs.

"Got my belt."

"That's not all."

Maggs took another look at the slumped-over mess in the jean jacket. "Is that—"

"I believe it is."

Maggs raised a hand and they high-fived. Juvenile, maybe, but Fezcko didn't care. They'd just caught one of the most wanted men in Pakistan.

A breeze picked up, dragging tendrils of the CS in their direction. Fezcko caught a whiff and began to cough. After a few seconds the breeze faded, but he kept coughing, until the cough turned into a laugh. He sat down beside Maggs.

"What?" Maggs said finally.

"Been one hell of a going-away party, hasn't it?"

Ten minutes later, the smoke had cleared enough to allow Fezcko to enter the house without his mask. Six jihadis had been in the house when the raid started. Four were dead. Khan's squad had shot two on the ground floor, the others on the stairs. In turn, Khan had taken four casualties, one dead, three seriously wounded.

"Not how we planned it," Fezcko said to Khan.

"I should like to know who tipped them. Maybe our new friend can tell us."

"How will you explain what's happened to your squad?"

"Leave that to me. Just promise, if you get anything from these monkeys, you'll pass it on."

"Done."

THEY PUT HOODS ON the prisoners and threw them into the back of Khan's van and rolled into the dark. By sunrise they would be halfway to Faisalabad. Before noon the plane would be at the airport, and by sunset bin Zari and the second prisoner would be somewhere over the Black Sea. After that… they would be in God's hands.

God's, and the agency's.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 147 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    super spy thriller

    Following the New York incident (see The Silent Man), CIA agent John Wells receives some needed R&R. He takes off for rustic New Hampshire with only his dog Tonka as his hiking mate.

    However, his respite abruptly ends when his assignments boss Ellis Shafer calls asking him to come back to work as he is needed. An assassin has killed probably five members of the defunct 10 manned Task Force 673, whose mission was to interrogate high-value terrorists; they had no rules except obtain information anyway they can. John searches for the killer with the biggest barriers coming from within as security agency chiefs are willing to allow more Americans to die in order to gain more power.

    Shakespeare said "All's well that ends well", but even if he ends the serial killing spree, the espionage operative learns otherwise as Pogo trumps the Bard with "we have met the enemy and he is us". The latest Wells' spy thriller is more a whodunit except for the penis envy testosterone wars between the American spy agencies. Fans will appreciate Alex Berenson's super thriller as his hero may be The Faithful Spy, but others place agency desires over national security.

    Harriet Klausner

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 26, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Engaging

    Book 4, in the John Wells series

    This story is a fictional account about people, their politics on interrogation and the harsh techniques performed on detainees to obtain information.

    CIA agent John Wells was on R&R in New Hampshire when his superior Ellis Shafer calls him back to Langley. An assassin has been killing one by one, members of the defunct team of 10 called 'Task Force 673 '. They were based in Poland at a place code name Midnight House and their mission was to interrogate high-value terrorists with whatever means necessary and extract vital Intel from the most dedicated and most radical. Could the killings be a question of pay back at all cost?

    With Wells back in the fold, he poses as an Arabic-speaking journalist in Cairo with the ultimate mission to find and interview Alaa Zumari and back at the home front, Shafer works his contacts he has developed over the years. Soon into the investigation they realize members of the 673 are being not only targeted by the enemy but also back at home by high ranking officials who do not want the truth to become public.

    This 4th instalment is a tale of moral corruption, cynicism and political manipulation. I find the storyline has a deeper message than the author's previous novels and has a slight philosophical and political overtone. It also covers an interesting topic: the torture of enemy combatants by Americans on foreign soil. The story jumps back and forth in time; it covers the 673 operations in Poland and the present day investigation. The pacing is slow at times with only a few vivid action sequences to provide a good adrenaline rush, however the writer has cleverly incorporated events of the past years with some plot twists to intrigue and challenge us. The story is driven by a large cast of interesting and well-drawn characters and Mr. Berenson has expertly developed his protagonist into multi-dimensional patriot extraordinaire.

    'The Midnight House' is very engaging and a mind stimulating read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2010

    Not up to Par

    The latest installment by Alex Berenson is thrilling but I think he's fallen into the pressure by the publishing company to come out with a book every year (much like Flynn and Thor). I wish the authors would try harder and make the books longer. It just didn't measure up to the first, second or third books. I'll probably try one more time but after that it'll be time to find another 'thriller' author.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2010

    Thrilling!

    Thoroughly engrossing and thrilling! Highly recommend.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 2, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Slipping. Slipping.

    Berenson's first book was great. Subsequent efforts have been weaker and weaker. This has been his worst book by quite a margin.

    Having said all that, this was one hell of a good book. It just wasn't nearly as good as his first book. I hope he can regain the edge he had on his earlier efforts. No matter, I will buy his next book the minute it hits the shelf.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2012

    A gdwrer

    Txbtueykgdyaepeu qteru
    Xzwr x

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  • Posted December 20, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A combo Spy/Mystery

    This forth offering on John Wells is set in 2008 when actions in Iraq were ongoing. The story is very believable and, while there is some action, it is more of a mystery that Wells and his boss investigates. While not as good as eariler works is still a great read. I enjoy his writing style and was eager to get to the end.

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  • Posted October 25, 2011

    Recommended

    I enjoyed this book a lot up until the last 30 pages or so. I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting but I felt kind of let down. I've read other books by Alex Berenson and taken as a whole, this was one of my least favorites.

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  • Posted May 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    An excellent read

    The novel's backdrop is timely, and the plot gives the reader an opportunity to consider an issue which is important to all of us. In the process, you also get to enjoy the suspense of a great story.

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  • Posted April 8, 2010

    The Midnight House

    Interesting way of looking at the psychological aspects of a warped mind.

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  • Posted March 27, 2010

    Very current book as the typr of "enhanced interrogations" the US is doing comes inder increasing scrutiny

    Berenson uses his famous character, John Wells, to scout out a secret interrogation cell called the Midnight House. Several of the now defunct cell's members have recently been murdered, and it is up to Wells and his sidekick, Fisher, to hunt them down and save the remaining members.

    While there was a lot of needless driveling about his ex-girlfriend Jennifer Exley, there wasn't enough of his new friend, a lady he met in his hideaway in the Northeast- but alas, I'm sure another sequel awaits that story.

    All in all a good book, not a real page turner, but one that as the book got on you wanted to know what happens.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 21, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    "Waiting for John to turn the page.....

    The story was very interesting, exploring aspects of torture how it affects the prisoner and the 'interrogater'.
    For all of the readers who are waiting for John to turn the page in his life, it is done! His personal life has hit a new low, if that was possible.

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  • Posted March 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    The Midnight House

    John Wells has one hell of a problem; find out why members of a former interrogation team are dead. Could they all be coincidence or murder and part of a terrorist plot? In Alex Berenson's THE MIDNIGHT HOUSE, the author jumps from Well's investigation back to when the team was together doing what it specialized in. As we learn about the members, we also learn how the CIA operates. This is a fast moving mystery/thriller that is character driven.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 13, 2010

    Another Solid, Yet Different Addition to the John Wells Series

    I have been a fan of Alex Berenson since his first novel and this book adds to the depth of the John Wells series. I would guess some fans of his previous novels may not be as happy with The Midnight House, as it is more mystery novel and less spy or counterterrorism thriller. To me that is the strength of the series so far, with each novel taking a different approach, style and tone while maintaining high intensity around a core group of solid characters. Both the first and third novels in the series, The Faithful Spy and The Silent Man, had a pure counterterrorism focus, while the The Ghost War was a more traditional espionage thriller. TMH overlaps into both areas but is first and foremost a mystery novel built around the world of spies.

    End result is a pretty solid addition to the series, though one that may disappoint fans expecting something else. Plot is well paced, and Berenson overlaps multiple elements, including past and present, adroitly to move things along. TMH is not the best in the Wells series, but that's a high standard given the outstanding quality of the first three novels. Even so it is a worthwhile read and a nice addition to the series, and Berenson's main character and supporting cast continue to shine in comparison to most in the genre, save only those of Daniel Silva.

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  • Posted March 6, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Empty House

    Having liked Berenson's previous novels made the disappointment in this one all the harder. Perhaps the author had one more book to churn out under his contract, perhaps he was out of steam, but this novel was just a run of the mill story. To give it 4 stars wouldn't be fair to those novels who have earned them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Pretty Good

    It was pretty good, but not up to the previous novels in the series.

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  • Posted February 14, 2010

    not the best

    this was not one of the best from this author. hard reading the main person john wells could have been more in the book. i liked his other three much better. got a little off the pathway.

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  • Posted February 6, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Terrorists interviewed in The Midnight House

    You would not want to be in The Midnight House! It is a location where the CIA and other various high security agencies kept their worst terrorists. It is not known except by those that are using it for all types of interrogation including torture of the worst means. Of course it is not known since the United States does not torture those they interrogate! When you read the things that these terrorists performed you might feel The Midnight House is very necessary, like it or not.

    This story will take you to many of the areas of the world in which the free world is fighting today to rid the world of the worst terrorists. It takes you on raids and actions including both sides of the war on terror and then takes you in the cells, or whatever you wish to call their walls of imprisonment, to suffer what the prisoners and the interrogators do through time, telling their daily routines while they play mind games with each other.

    John Wells had been an agent but needed time off to recover from the rigors of the extreme work these agents perform. John was on a mountain climbing trek when he received a call from his immediate boss, Ellis Schafer requesting that John was desperately needed at work. Reluctantly, John returned to the dangerous grueling work. The agency heads were too secretive about all the things going on in the "prison camps" such as Midnight House was, but needed help finding some terrorists as well as CIA missing agents. Shafer and Wells left after obtaining all the possible information heading for Pakistan, Egypt, and surrounding areas. Wells went into deep cover traveling to and while in the area. Wells was as tough as anyone, mentally or physically, but was he ready for all he would suffer, learn, and observe?

    Sometimes in each others company and sometimes not they carried out their mission getting into trouble with local authorities and enemy combatants several times. Their life was hard while they pried into the lives and actions of the agents that were in or had been in the area. Some had disappeared from plain sight. A unit called 673 had secretly been formed for the area and Shafer and Wells were to search for the group, if any were left, and the past members that had disappeared from the face of the earth. Some of the searches led back to Washington, DC and the heads of the involved agencies. How far to go and how far to open cans of worms to their sources?

    An excellent spy book as John Well's returns in another one of Alex Berenson's books. Wells ex-love life was a part also. He had a hard time getting Exley out of his mind but she was out of the picture as far as Wells figured. You will not be disappointed as you read and travel to "The Midnight House."

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 15, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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