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The Prince of Bagram Prison: A Novel

The Prince of Bagram Prison: A Novel

4.0 2
by Alex Carr

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A riveting and intricate literary thriller from the author The New York Times Book Review says “speaks up in a voice that gets your attention like a rifle shot . . . clean, direct, and a little dangerous.”

Army Intelligence reservist Kat Caldwell is teaching Arabic at a military college in Virginia when the order comes: Retired spy chief Dick


A riveting and intricate literary thriller from the author The New York Times Book Review says “speaks up in a voice that gets your attention like a rifle shot . . . clean, direct, and a little dangerous.”

Army Intelligence reservist Kat Caldwell is teaching Arabic at a military college in Virginia when the order comes: Retired spy chief Dick Morrow needs to find a CIA informant who has slipped away from his handler in Spain and may be heading to Morocco.

Jamal was a prisoner whom Kat interrogated when she worked at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan. Having gained his trust, she is now expected to discover his whereabouts on a treacherous trail that leads from Madrid’s red-light district to the slums of Casablanca. But when a British Special Forces soldier is murdered just as he is about to give testimony on the death of a Bagram detainee, Kat begins to suspect that the real story here is one of the cover-up of U.S.-sanctioned torture. And when in desperation Jamal contacts his former CIA handler, he unwittingly rekindles a bitter struggle between the one man who can save him and the one who wants him dead.

Praise for Alex Carr’s An Accidental American

“A swift, clean, nuanced thriller . . . deeply atmospheric.”
–The Seattle Times, Best Crime Novels of 2007

“Demonstrates fiction’s power to follow a shard of glass from the great explosion, to examine its bloodstained edges and explore the passion, foolishness, tragedy and flawed humanity traced by its journey toward discovery . . . In this novel, we learn how to decipher the language of war, its mismanaged intent and complex ramifications.”
–January Magazine, Best Books of 2007

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Patrick Anderson
It is a tribute to Alex Carr's considerable skill as a novelist that I hugely enjoyed The Prince of Bagram Prison without having much of a clue as to what was going on. I knew that a lot of Americans are trying to find a Moroccan teenager named Jamal—some to save him, others to kill him—but I was never entirely sure why he was worth all the trouble. I kept reading anyway, quite happily, partly in hopes of solving the mystery but mostly because Carr writes so well. Her novel supports a no-doubt-unoriginal theory of mine: that the best art—from Hamlet to T.S. Eliot's "Waste Land" to certain Bob Dylan lyrics—is deeply mysterious. This book may not be in that league, but it's one of the more interesting spy novels we're likely to see this year.
—The Washington Post
Lorraine Adams
What Carr can do is write vivid American spies, male and female. She captures both the weariness of jaded case officers and the energetic cynicism of their younger colleagues. And in Katherine Caldwell, she has created the kind of smart striver who's neither fatally ambitious nor an unbelievable femme fatale. Kat knows her business and understands bad odds, in romance and in spycraft. Almost singlehandedly, she manages to keep this spinning top of a novel guiltily entertaining.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

At the start of this intelligent spy thriller from the pseudonymous Carr (the author of Flashbackand other novels under her real name, Jenny Siler), Kat Caldwell, a gutsy U.S. Army interrogator stationed at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, takes charge of Jamal, a 15-year-old Moroccan boy caught in a jihadi sweep by a British Special Forces team. Having fled a degraded existence as an orphan in Morocco, the resourceful Jamal is no terrorist, Kat decides. After Jamal escapes custody, a team of American intelligence agents, working in both an official and unofficial capacity, go in search of him. Because of their earlier relationship, Kat is recruited to help locate the boy. When she realizes that something bad will happen if she finds him, she also goes on the run. Effortlessly shifting point of view and back and forth in time, Carr (An Accidental American) well deserves comparisons with the early John le Carré. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

With several successful crime novels already published under her real name, Jenny Siler, Carr sets her second espionage thriller (after An Accidental American) in the twisted alleys of the Middle East and Madrid. An American interrogator working with detainees swept up in the pursuit of enemy extremists defends a Moroccan teenage boy caught in the dragnet at the Bagram Airbase site in Afghanistan. Desperate for information, the Americans set him free-in Madrid, where he is to report useful tidbits learned from the Arab street to his CIA handlers. The boy's fabrications eventually trigger a paroxysm of violence as the warring forces seek to protect identities and secrets. Abundant with graceful prose and gritty local color, the tale is unfortunately marred by a jagged chronology that disrupts the pace and development of the story. But the main protagonist, feisty interrogator Katherine Caldwell, is a well-drawn character whose strong loyalties balance precariously against the brutal efficiencies of the agency. In addition, Carr's purpose, as she notes in her acknowledgments, is to illuminate the vicious abuses that occurred under the reign (1961-99) of Moroccan King Hassan II, and American readers will gain insight into that country's oppressive Years of Lead. This worthy addition to the spy genre is recommended for large public libraries.
—Barbara Conaty

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews
Carr (An Accidental American, 2007, etc.) shows a straight-shooting soldier coming up against decades of treachery in America's intelligence machinery. This provocative tale of military intelligence gone haywire is marred only by rapid and bewildering shifts of time and territory from the 1970s to the early 2000s, Afghanistan and Spain to Vietnam and Morocco. At the murky center is Jamal, snatched at birth from an unwed Moroccan who had incurred the displeasure of King Hassan's regime. Fleeing the squalid orphanage where he was dumped, teenaged Jamal managed to make it across the straits to Spain and then into the pipeline leading to Afghanistan in the middle of the war on the Taliban. He was of interest to coalition interrogators there because of the older Iranians with whom he arrived; one of those men died in custody, the other escaped. Jamal's interrogator was Army specialist Katherine "Kat" Caldwell, a fluent Arabic speaker thanks to her training at the Defense Language Institute. At the time she interrogated Jamal, Kat was involved with one of the Brits who had a hand in the death of Jamal's Iranian companion. These connections come into play when, years later, Kat is summoned from her civilian job at a military school, ordered back on duty and sent to Spain to find Jamal, who has eluded the agents now on his trail. Why those agents killed Kat's old boyfriend and why they want to kill Jamal when they find him are secrets only gradually revealed to Kat and the reader as she follows her gut instincts to locate the boy. Neither Jamal nor Kat knows anything about the devils haunting "Mr. Harry," as Jamal calls the retired spook he went to for help when he realized he was in danger, butHarry Comfort knows that they are up against bad guys entrenched at the heart of the American intelligence machinery, men who want all of them dead. A smart, timely thriller weakened only by the abrupt narrative jumps among the decades covered.

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The Prince of Bagram Prison
A Novel

By Alex Carr
Random House Trade Paperbacks
Copyright © 2008 Alex Carr
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780812977097

So, then, Jamal," the American said, resting his hands on his knees as was his habit. "How's everything going?"  
He was a tall man, his arms and legs too long for his torso, his head square, with a neatly shorn cap of blond hair, pale eyelashes set in a pale face. Justin, he had insisted more than once that Jamal call him. But the boy could imagine nothing more awkward than addressing him this way.   It was evening, still barely light outside, and through the open window Jamal could see into the apartment across the street, where the woman in the pink abaya was cooking dinner, as she almost always was during these meetings with the American. Harira, Jamal thought, smelling the heady odor of garlic and spice. Last week there was lamb. And, the week before, the pleasant aroma of sugar and cinnamon. The promise of seeing her was the one thing about these weekly meetings that Jamal did not dread.   "There are some very important men coming to see you," the American announced, not waiting for a reply to his earlier query, apparently not wanting one. "They're going to ask you some questions about Bagheri."   Jamal's mind raced anxiously back througheverything he had said. He had not meant for it to come to this, and now he wasn't quite sure what to do. Somewhere in the building, a baby was crying. A baby was always crying, though whether it was the same baby or different ones Jamal could not say.   "From Washington?" he asked, trying to conceal his panic.   The American nodded, the gesture somehow both encouraging and unkind. "Just tell them what you know, what you've told me, and everything will be fine."   Jamal thought for a moment. "Will Mr. Harry be there?"   The man sighed, clearly exasperated. "We've talked about this, Jamal. Harry-Mr. Comfort, that is-doesn't work with us anymore. But you have me now." He conjured a smile, leaned forward, and handed Jamal a scrap of paper with an address scrawled in black ink. "There's a safe house in Malasaña. We'll meet there at midnight tomorrow."   Jamal took the paper. "And after I tell them about Bagheri I can go?"   "Of course." The American shrugged, pressed his hands against his knees, and unfolded his long body from the chair. "You can go right now if you'd like," he said, not understanding.   "No." Jamal followed the man's face as he rose. "I can go to America?"   The man paused to recover himself. Clearly he had not expected this, and his mouth was suddenly grim in the room's fading light. "Yes," he said at last. "Yes, of course. We'll talk about that later."   Jamal nodded, sensing that this was the right thing to do, though he knew the American was lying. He had seen this same look many times before. Not pity but guilt. Shame at what had been done, at what was about to be done.   "Trust me," the man said. Pulling his wallet from the back pocket of his pants, he slipped a hundred-euro note-much more than the usual payment-from the billfold and handed it to Jamal, then turned for the door.   Jamal could hear the American's footsteps as he made his way down the stairs, the scrape of his leather soles on the gritty concrete. Then, far below, in the building's foyer, the front door slammed closed.   Give me five minutes, Mr. Harry used to say after he and Jamal had played their usual game of gin rummy. He'd had an easy way of talking, as if it was all just a game, a joke between the two of them. Make them think we've been up to something in here.   But Jamal was in no hurry to leave. After the American left, he sat alone in the apartment and watched the woman cook. It was not something he had ever permitted himself before, and though she was neither young nor beautiful, watching her felt somehow unclean. Pornographic. Jamal could not make himself stop.   Emboldened by the darkness, he inched his chair closer to the window. In the kitchen's halogen glare the woman's abaya was bright as a pomegranate, the fabric shifting as she moved from one task to another, stirring and chopping and setting out the dinner dishes. She was so close, the space that separated them so narrow, that for a moment Jamal forgot himself and was there with her. Then someone passed in the street below, a singer unaccompanied except by one too many glasses of sherry.   He could always go back, Jamal told himself, contemplating his slim options. To Tangier or Casa. Ain Chock, even. He did not think the Americans would come to Morocco. If they did, it would not be easy for them to find him. Though even as he thought this he knew that going back was not something he could bring himself to do. Not yet.   And the truth? Never tell them the truth, Harry had cautioned him once. They'll just use it against you. Suddenly Jamal missed the man with a desperation he rarely allowed himself. If Mr. Harry were here, Jamal thought, he would know what to do. They would sort this out together. Though, of course, if Harry were here things would never have come this far.   Below in the darkness the singer passed, the twelve-count rhythm of the Verdiales fading into the quarter's crooked street, the words slurred beyond recognition. For a moment everything was quiet, then the baby started up again.   No, Jamal told himself, fighting back tears as he fingered the hundred-euro note in his hand. He had started it and he would have to see it through. If he played things right, he might even come out on top. Now that he understood just how much Bagheri meant to the Americans, he would be asking for more than the usual handouts.       two   It was barely eight by the bar clock at the Kings Cross Coopers. Just enough time, David Kurtz thought as he watched Colin Mitchell shoulder his bag with his good right arm and make his way to the bar, for a quick pint before the next train north.   The Coopers was not a place to linger, yet there was something to be said for the unapologetic grubbiness of the establishment. A good station pub wasn't meant to be pleasant. Squalor was part of the allure, a distraction from the open shame of the patrons, men on their way to places they didn't want to go, medicating themselves for the trip.   From his seat at the back of the room, Kurtz watched Colin squeeze into one of the few free spaces at the counter and bark his order over the din. It had been two years since their last meeting, since that night at the Bagram Special Forces camp. Hardly long enough, Kurtz thought, for time to have taken such an obvious toll on the other man. Yet it had.   The barman set down a full pint and Colin hunched over the glass, looking up at the television, trying, Kurtz knew, to avoid his own reflection in the bar's mirror, the sight of his stiff left arm hanging awkwardly at his side. Hand and wrist and elbow that, after two years, obviously didn't feel like his own.   But there was more to Colin's transformation than just the loss of his arm. His entire body seemed diminished by the injury, as if the absence were not merely a physical one. Watching his graceless gestures and slumped back gave Kurtz a sense of overwhelming satisfaction, as if some kind of justice had been achieved.   Colin ducked his head and turned away from the television, letting his eyes wander across the room. It was a motion Kurtz was familiar with, cautious and searching, the look on his face that of a man who felt he was being watched. And Kurtz, wanting his presence known, allowed himself to be found.   Colin's gaze slid toward Kurtz and stopped, his expression shifting suddenly from confusion to contempt. It was the same way he and the other soldiers had looked at Kurtz so many times before, their disdain indelible. And this time Kurtz, thinking of what was to come, couldn't stop himself from smiling.   "Mitchell?" He raised his hand and waved, forcing surprise-an old acquaintance caught off guard by an unlikely meeting-then stood and jostled his way through the crowd toward the bar. "I thought that was you!"   He was not good at false sincerity, never had been. "Buy you a drink?" he proposed, wedging himself next to Colin, patting him on the back for the benefit of whoever was watching before signaling the bartender for a fresh round. "For old times' sake."   "Save your money," Colin told him icily, looking up at the television again. There was a rugby match on, Hull at St. Helens, the teams locked together in comic futility, like a group of drunks staggering home from the bar on a gusty evening. "I've got a train to catch."   "Just five minutes," Kurtz said, knowing full well that the Edinburgh train wasn't leaving for another half hour.   The barman set two fresh pints on the counter and Kurtz paid him. "I never could understand rugby," he observed, motioning to the game with his right hand, fingering the vial in his breast pocket with his left. Minutes, he reminded himself. Once he takes that first sip it will be a matter of minutes till it's over. "Same with cricket. Here, for instance. Was that a goal or a try? I can never remember which is which."   Colin's skin was sallow in the nicotine-dulled glare of the pub's lights, his face that of a junkie in need of a fix. Yes, Kurtz thought as he moved his hand across Colin's glass, letting the contents of the vial drop as he did so. Here was a man whose death would be a surprise to no one.   Kurtz slid the empty vial back into his pocket, then lifted his own glass and admired the contents. "You still in touch with Kat?" he asked. "She was somewhere in Virginia, last I heard." Like picking an old scab.   Colin shrugged, took a long, slow sip of his bitter, then turned to face Kurtz. "You here to make sure I haven't gotten cold feet?"   "Something like that."   "Well, you shouldn't have bothered. I'm not planning any sudden changes of heart, and neither is Stuart. So unless your Mr. Bagheri decides to make an unscheduled appearance at the court-martial, you've got nothing to worry about."   Kurtz laughed. Just a bit too easily, he knew, but it didn't matter now.   Neither of them spoke then, and for a moment it was almost as if they were, in fact, what they appeared to be: two old acquaintances passing in transit, two men making a truce. All of it behind them now, al-Amir and the Iranian. Kat, even.   Colin finished his beer and glanced at his watch. "Time's up," he said, hefting his bag with his good right hand. He moved to push himself back from the bar, but his prosthetic hand slipped on the wet counter and he pitched awkwardly forward.   "You okay?" Kurtz asked jeeringly.   Colin struggled to stand. His face was damp, his mouth open wide, his breathing ragged.   Kurtz slipped Colin's arm across his shoulder and helped him up, steering him away from the bar and toward the bathroom. A woman lunged at them from the crowd, her mouth a sharp red slash, her fat face smeared and stained. A drunk recognizing her kin. She fell against Colin, pawing him sloppily. Disgusted, Kurtz shoved her away and kicked the bathroom door open with his boot.   Colin stumbled out of his grasp and into one of the doorless stalls, dropping to his knees before the toilet, retching up beer and bile.   Kurtz locked the door behind them. "That last pint must not have agreed with you," he sneered. Pulling a pair of black leather gloves from his jacket pocket, shoving his hands into them, he reached for Colin's bag and unzipped it, shuffled through the meager contents. Dirty underwear and T-shirts. A few toiletries for the overnight to Portsmouth.   "Open up!" There was a flurry of impatient voices from the other side of the door, a barrage of fists.   Kurtz paused briefly. "Fuck off!" he barked over his shoulder, then he pulled Colin's half-finished bottle of morphine sulfate from the bag.   "You know," he remarked, nodding toward Colin's bad left arm, "this was supposed to have happened at al-Amir." He dumped the remaining pills into the toilet, then set his boot on the steel lever and flushed. "Don't worry," he added. "It'll be over before you know it."       three   It was just past midnight when Jamal started across Puerta del Sol. Late already, he thought, glancing up at the clock tower on the Old Post House, not bothering to pick up his pace. The Americans would wait for him, he reminded himself. They would have to.   It was a warm night, early fall in all its perfection, and the outdoor cafés that ringed the plaza were filled to overflowing. The crowd was mixed, Madrileños and tourists both, all young and attractive. Bare shoulders and legs, skin burnished and dark from the August holidays.   In the center of the plaza a fountain washed elegantly onto itself, the water lit from beneath, lucid as blown glass. This other Madrid, far from the dank streets of Lavapiés and Jamal's room above the halal butcher shop, the sounds and smells of slaughter. This city Jamal so seldom saw, in which he would always be an outsider.   Picking his way through the crowd, Jamal crossed the plaza and headed north toward the Gran Via. He had been to Malasaña, the city's unofficial red-light district, before, on more desperate occasions than he liked to admit, always looking to make some quick cash. This wasn't his purpose tonight, but he could feel the fist of apprehension in his stomach all the same, fear of what he knew was to come.   Fifteen Calle del Desengaño. Jamal repeated the address to himself as he walked, trying to focus on the task ahead, on what, exactly, he would tell the Americans. He had not gone back to his room the night before, but had stayed at the apartment on the Calle Tres Peces, working his story over and over in his mind until he'd almost believed it himself. Then, sometime just before dawn, he'd finally fallen asleep.   Jamal could feel the angry stares of the whores as soon as he turned off the Gran Via and onto the Calle del Desengaño. These women had all been in the business long enough to know a threat when they saw one, and though Jamal wasn't trolling for tricks tonight, there was no way of convincing the whores that this was the case.        


Excerpted from The Prince of Bagram Prison by Alex Carr Copyright © 2008 by Alex Carr. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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prince of Bagram Prison 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
harstan More than 1 year ago
Because she speaks Arabic, US Army Intelligent Agent reservist Kat Caldwell was deployed as an interrogator at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. When she met Moroccan teenager Jamal, she quickly realized he was not a terrorist just a person in the wrong place at the wrong time during an allied sweep led by the British Special Forces. She gains his trust, but her tour ends and she returns to teaching Arabic in Virginia. --- Three years later, retired CIA Chief Dick Morrow has Kat reactivated. Her assignment is to find eighteen years old Jamal, who had been an informer since he met Kat, but vanished in Spain after contacting his handler Harry Comfort that he saw terrorist Hamid Bagheri. The CIA sends a team to retrieve Jamal while Morrow thinks he went home and Kat is the best bet to safely bring him back as the lad trusts her. Kat flies to Madrid but quickly realizes that she is CIA bait. If she finds him in the slums of Casablanca where she thinks he is hiding, she will inadvertently betray him as those on her side of the war on terrorism will kill the teen to cover up the torturous truth Jamal could expose. --- THE PRINCE OF BAGRAM PRISON is an excellent espionage thriller that seamlessly shifts between the present and three years ago, and several points of view. Readers will be hooked especially when Kat begins to realize she is being used to lure Jamal to his death thus the heroine struggles between loyalty to her country and the military, but also knows the Army values include honor. Alex Carr provides genre fans with a great tale starring a stunned heroine, a frightened teen, and an adversary prepared to kill both of them. Newcomers will seek Ms. Carr¿s previous work (see AN ACCIDENTAL AMERICAN). --- Harriet Klausner