Ministers of Fire: A Novel

( 1 )

Overview

A Washington Post 50 Notable Works of Fiction Selection “Starred” review in Publishers Weekly.
A Wall Street Journal Top Ten Mysteries of 2012 Selection.

Ministers of Fire opens in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1979, where, the author writes, “the world we know was born.” CIA station chief Lucius Burling, an idealistic but flawed product of his nation’s intelligence establishment, barely survives the assassination of the American ambassador. Burling’s...

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Ministers of Fire

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Overview

A Washington Post 50 Notable Works of Fiction Selection “Starred” review in Publishers Weekly.
A Wall Street Journal Top Ten Mysteries of 2012 Selection.

Ministers of Fire opens in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1979, where, the author writes, “the world we know was born.” CIA station chief Lucius Burling, an idealistic but flawed product of his nation’s intelligence establishment, barely survives the assassination of the American ambassador. Burling’s reaction to the murder, and his desire to understand its larger meaning, propel him on a journey of intrigue and betrayal that will shake his faith in himself and in his country.

Fast forward to Shanghai in the spring of 2002: his marriage and career blown off course, Burling lives quietly as the American consul, but the attacks of September 11 threaten to bring his misadventures in Afghanistan back to the surface. A Chinese dissident physicist may be planning to sell his country’s nuclear secrets, and Burling recognizes the fingerprints of a covert operation, one without the obvious sanction of the Agency.

The dissident Yong’s escape route winds through an underground railroad of unauthorized churches and activists’ homes, drawing the violent attention of General Zu Dongren of the Chinese internal security service and his devoted lieutenant Li Xin. Drawn inexorably into their path, Burling must face both the ghosts of the past and a present world of global trafficking, fragile alliances, and the human need for connection above all.

Reminiscent of the best work of Graham Greene and John le Carré, Ministers of Fire extends the spy thriller into new historical, political, and emotional territory.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Ministers of Fire is a beautifully written, restrained, and passionate work by a writer who knows the ins and outs and intrigues of the New World Order all too well. His prose is alive with insight, his characters are both recognizable from the news and internally realized. His novel has psychological depth, action, and suspense. It’s a fine work and its author is a writer of great promise.”
— Robert Stone, author of Dog Soldiers and Damascus Gate

“In Mark Harril Saunders's gripping first novel, Ministers of Fire, tensions and ambiguities induce moral guilt and mortal dread…. Mr. Saunders makes his large cast of international characters come to life with quick strokes. Ministers of Fire deserves a place next to the works of such masters as Charles McCarry and Robert Stone.”
— The Wall Street Journal

“A Chinese puzzle thriller — intricate and richly layered.”
— Joseph Kanon, author of The Good German

“Mark Harril Saunders’s first novel, Ministers of Fire is a brilliant, exciting and profound spy tale about, among other things, what it means to have faith… . (T)his is a classic CIA novel, thick with political and moral complications… . (A)n incredibly rich reading experience.“ (A Washington Post "notable work of fiction” from 2012.)  
— The Washington Post

Ministers of Fire belongs on the bookshelf with John le Carré and Eric Ambler.… I enjoyed it enormously.”
— John Casey, National Book award-winning author of Spartina and Compass Rose

“Veteran cold warriors confront the post-9/11 world in Saunders's impressive first novel, a complex spy thriller.… While the intricate plotting and vivid action scenes are sure to please genre fans, more general readers should also find plenty to enjoy, from Saunders’s meticulous prose to his closely observed characterizations.”
Publishers Weekly (Starred review)

“Another treat supplied by (Ministers of Fire) is a window into the lives of the operatives and families of the CIA.… Here on the page are the stressed and fed-up wives … the estranged children in private schools and the frayed marriages.… And at the end of the story, Saunders delivers us not the Hollywood shoot-out of good versus evil one of his characters desires but something more complex, grey and real.”
— Washington Independent Review of Books

“I haven't read as good a prologue to a spy thriller all year. And given Mark Harril Saunders' aspirations, I couldn't have expected more.… The first full chapter carries us decades ahead to China where Burling, now in a more ambiguous operation than before, and several other characters, including the missing April's husband, posture and gesture against a Chinese crowd of agents, provocateurs, diplomats, dissidents and military. Saunders does all this quite deftly. More bullets fly, ideas bound against ideas, honor ducks for cover, and hope impales itself on the world of practical intrigue.”
— Alan Cheuse, San Francisco Chronicle

“What separates Saunders' work from much of the espionage field comes in two rewarding areas; first, he creates fully fleshed characters, and second, his writing soars above the pedestrian, not only in his characterizations but also in his lucid descriptions of life in contemporary China and his intelligent take on the perils of clandestine efforts in a dangerous world where loyalty can be a liability.”
— Jay Strafford, Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Washington Post
Mark Harril Saunders's first novel, Ministers of Fire, is a brilliant, exciting and profound spy tale…an incredibly rich reading experience. Saunders…has a highly literate style and a deep understanding of politics and people. Ministers of Fire asks what it means to believe—in Mao, in Jesus Christ, in good intentions—as well as what it means to live in a fallen world…If Saunders sometimes tries to do too much, he also stretches the genre in the process.
—Rodney Welch
Publishers Weekly
Veteran cold warriors confront the post-9/11 world in Saunders’s impressive first novel, a complex spy thriller. After introducing Lucius Burling, a brilliant and dedicated CIA agent, in 1979 Afghanistan, the story moves forward to 2002 to find him serving as consul in Shanghai. His one-time superior, Gordon MacAllister, enlists Lucius to investigate an attempt to smuggle the dissident nuclear physicist Yong Beihong out of China. Unbeknownst to Lucius, the man helping Beihong is an old compatriot from the CIA’s Afghanistan operations, Jack Lindstrom, who left the agency after his wife disappeared into the hands of the mujahideen. As Beihong and Jack journey to freedom, the Chinese intelligence chief Gen. Zu Dongren follows closely behind. While the intricate plotting and vivid action scenes are sure to please genre fans, more general readers should also find plenty to enjoy, from Saunders’s meticulous prose to his closely observed characterizations.Agent: Neil Olson, Donadio & Olson. (May)
Library Journal
In 1979 Kabul CIA station chief Lucius Burling survived an ambush that kills the American ambassador, but he couldn't grasp what happened or why. Then on his next mission, he fell in love with the wife of a co-agent. Fast forward to 2002. Burling is now the American consul in Shangahi. A dissident Chinese physicist may be planning to sell his country's nuclear secrets, but is this operation being carried out without the CIA's involvement? VERDICT Saunders can write, but his complex story would have been easier to follow if written in a less literary style. The narrative continually crashes to a halt with long descriptions and prose that calls attention to itself. The love triangle and the characters are fine, but suspense is lacking. Espionage novels should rock, but this one is merely karaoke.—Jeff Ayers, Seattle P.L.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804011549
  • Publisher: Ohio University Press
  • Publication date: 2/15/2014
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 344
  • Sales rank: 1,505,909
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Harril Saunders was born and raised in the Washington, D.C., area and holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Virginia, where he was a Henry Hoyns Fellow. He has traveled extensively in Europe, the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, and China. His writing has appeared in the VQR, Boston Review, and the Virginian-Pilot, and in 2001 he was awarded the Andrew S. Lytle Prize for fiction from Sewanee Review. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife and three children.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2013

    Silvermist to FireClan

    A silvery queen wanders past the old camp, searching. "Hello? Cedarstar? Gingerpaw? Icecloud?" She calls. She sits in the center of a clearing, searching for any sign of where her clan has gone.

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