The Prisoner of Guantanamo

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Overview

When the body of an American soldier is discovered in Cuban waters near the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo, Revere Falk, a former FBI agent, is reassigned from his job interrogating an accused al-Qaeda operative to investigate the soldier’s mysterious death.

Falk soon finds himself in a deadly game of intrigue that stretches from the charged waters of Guantánamo Bay to the polished halls of Washington. Every move Falk makes could be costly, and to make matters worse, a ...

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Overview

When the body of an American soldier is discovered in Cuban waters near the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo, Revere Falk, a former FBI agent, is reassigned from his job interrogating an accused al-Qaeda operative to investigate the soldier’s mysterious death.

Falk soon finds himself in a deadly game of intrigue that stretches from the charged waters of Guantánamo Bay to the polished halls of Washington. Every move Falk makes could be costly, and to make matters worse, a dark figure from his past reappears, brandishing a secret he thought he had safely buried. The Prisoner of Guantánamo is a daring look at life behind the barbed wire of Gitmo and a riveting portrayal of what goes on in the most secret levels of our government.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Cover-ups and conspiracies abound in another Dan Fesperman novel inspired by recent world events, The Prisoner of Guantánamo. Set in and around the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, the story follows former Marine and current FBI interrogator Revere Falk, as he is called to investigate the possible murder of an American soldier stationed at Gitmo whose body washed ashore in Cuban territory.

Arabic-speaking interrogator Falk, frustrated with the situation at Gitmo ("too few detainees of real value, too many agencies tussling over the scraps"), is close to a breakthrough with one of his charges, a young Yemeni jihadist who may have invaluable information about al-Qaeda, when the corpse of an American soldier found on Cuban soil turns the base into a suspicion-charged powder keg. Falk's investigation leads him to some startling realizations -- and also puts him directly in the line of fire…

Readers interested in current world events -- and especially those who have enjoyed Fesperman's previous novels -- Lie in the Dark (which takes place in war-torn Bosnia) and The Warlord's Son (set in Afghanistan and Pakistan after 9/11) -- will find satisfaction in this book, which is based on facts and insights obtained with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. According to the acknowledgments, the ACLU employed the Freedom of Information Act to pry loose hundreds of Camp Delta documents that the author used as research. Infused with paranoia, political posturing, and propaganda, this timely thriller is guaranteed to entertain -- and enrage. Paul Goat Allen
From the Publisher
“A tantalizing, timely thriller. . . . Powerful.” —The Washington Post Book World “A superb spy thriller worthy of sharing shelf space with the novels of John le Carré and Ken Follett.” —USA Today “Fast-paced. . . . A page-turning thriller.”—San Francisco Chronicle“Heart-breakingly believable . . . Falk is a character of depth and fascination.” —Chicago Tribune
Peter Earnest
The U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- long known in the military as "Gitmo" -- is the stage for Dan Fesperman's tantalizing, timely thriller about an FBI special agent called upon to extract information from one of the alleged jihadists being detained there. Agent Revere Falk's subject is Adnan al-Hamdi, a young Yemeni captured early in the post-9/11 fighting in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and suspected of knowing valuable intelligence about al-Qaeda. Our on-again, off-again access to Adnan's nightly terrors, musings and fantasies is a powerful feature of the early part of the narrative, in which we learn that Adnan harbors a secret that could cast the war in Iraq in a whole new light. Will the patient, Arabic-speaking Falk be able to extract it from him? And at what price?
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Talk about "ripped from today's headlines"-this exciting and moving audio version of a veteran Baltimore Sun foreign correspondent's incredibly timely thriller still has hot ink and sound bytes emanating from it. Although Fesperman set his book at Guant namo in 2003 after spending some time there, and presumably finished it months before the current outrage about the former military base now serving as a holding unit for suspected terrorists, it reads and sounds-thanks to a cool, ironic and subtly impassioned performance by Colacci-like an Internet news feed. A very young Yemeni prisoner disappears, other prisoners kill themselves and brutal examiners justify their extreme behavior by scoffing at the Geneva Conventions. Colacci brings a large cast to life, starting with FBI interrogator and Arabic speaker Revere Falk, and manages to make Falk's so-called friends and security colleagues as equivocal as they come without breaking a sweat. Even the Cubans-who play a surprising role in the story-come across as a varied group. The only problem with playing this in a car is listeners might think they've turned on NPR by mistake. Simultaneous release with the Knopf hardcover (Reviews, May 1). (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Fesperman, a Baltimore Sun reporter whose stints as a foreign war correspondent in Bosnia and Afghanistan added verisimilitude to his earlier spy novels (e.g., The Warlord's Son), here focuses on another news-making locale: Guant namo, Cuba. Revere Falk escaped a wretched childhood and a future as a lobsterman by joining the U.S. Marines and learning Arabic. Now an FBI interrogator back at the infamous prison camp where he first trained, Falk is charged with eliciting information from a young Yemeni man who may have links to al Qaeda. When the mutilated body of an American officer is discovered on a Cuban beach, Falk is tapped to investigate. Suddenly, everyone wants to know about the case-the army, the CIA, the FBI, even Cuban intelligence-and Falk soon realizes the stakes are much higher than he ever imagined. Fesperman deftly builds suspense, painting a dark picture of the operations at Camp Delta and its shadier cousins, Echo and X-Ray, while including plenty of sympathetic character development. A topnotch topical thriller, this is enthusiastically recommended for all popular fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/06.]-Christine Perkins, Burlington P.L., WA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Inter-agency rivalries, Cuban-American politics and prisoners of the War on Terror combine to rattle-quite sharply-the life of an FBI agent in Guantanamo, Cuba. Baltimore Sun reporter Fesperman (The Warlord's Son, 2004, etc.) continues his intelligent novelist's tour of places you'd be terrified to visit (war-ravaged Yugoslavia, the Paki-Afghan border), alighting this time in Guantanamo Bay ("Gitmo"), that American thorn in Fidel's side, where the U.S. has been parking thousands of young men who may or may not be terrorists. Former Marine and current FBI agent Revere Falk is there because a stint in Yemen has polished his already good Arabic, making him an exceptionally valuable interrogator. His grilling of Adnan, a very young, very distressed Yemeni, is interrupted, however, when the body of an American sergeant washes up on the wrong side of the fence dividing Gitmo from Castro's Cuba, and Falk is assigned to clear up the case. The soldier, a reservist from Michigan, was a banker who had been getting worried letters from home about some odd dealings with shadowy Cayman Island banks. Falk quickly finds himself crowded out of both the drowning investigation and the interrogation of Adnan when higher-ups, including Falk's own mentor, arrive from several spooky Washington departments. And, to compound the problems, Falk, after years of silence, has been contacted by the Cubans who blackmailed him into spying for them years ago, when he was a young Marine looking for a taste of Latin love. The intense interest in the Yemeni prisoner and the drowned soldier are related, but the relationship is largely invisible to an increasingly baffled Falk, who realizes that both he and the attractiveArmy captain he has been dating are both subjects of equally malign interest on the part of island spies. The sharply drawn scenery, fascinating setting and a couple of exceptionally interesting central characters compensate for a plot that threatens occasionally to drown in detail.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400096145
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/10/2007
  • Series: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 994,231
  • Product dimensions: 5.21 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet the Author

Dan Fesperman’s travels as a writer have taken him to thirty countries and three war zones. Lie in the Dark won the Crime Writers’ Association of Britain’s John Creasey Memorial Dagger Award for best first crime novel, The Small Boat of Great Sorrows won their Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for best thriller, and The Prisoner of Guantánamo won the Dashiell Hammett Award from the International Association of Crime Writers. He lives in Baltimore.
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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

On the first day of his transition from captor to captive, Revere Falk stood barefoot on a starlit lawn at 4 a.m., still naively confident of his place among those who asked the questions and hoarded the secrets.

Falk was an old hand at concealment, trained from birth. The skill came in handy when you were an FBI interrogator. Who better to pry loose the artifacts of other lives than someone who knew all the hiding places? Better still, he spoke Arabic.

Not that he was putting his talents to much use at Guantanamo. And at the moment he was furious, having just returned from a botched session that summed up everything he hated about this place: too few detainees of real value, too many agencies tussling over the scraps, and too much heat—in every sense of the word.

Even at this hour, beads of sweat crawled across his scalp. By the time the sun was up it would be another day for the black flag, which the Army hoisted whenever the temperature rose beyond reason. An apt symbol, Falk thought, like some rectangular hole in the sky that you might fall into, never to reappear. A national banner for Camp Delta's Republic of Nobody, populated by 640 prisoners from forty countries, none of whom had the slightest idea how long they would be here. Then there were the 2,400 other new arrivals in the prison security force, mostly Reservists and Guardsmen who would rather be elsewhere. Throw in Falk's little subculture—120 or so interrogators, translators, and analysts from the military and half the branches of the federal government—and you had the makings of a massive psychological experiment on performing under stress at close quarters.

Falk was from Maine, a lobsterman's son, and what he craved most right now was dew and coolness, moss and fern, the balm of fogbound spruce. Failing that, he would have preferred to be nuzzled against the perfumed neck of Pam Cobb, an Army captain who was anything but stern once she agreed to terms of mutual surrender.

He sighed and gazed skyward, a mariner counting stars, then pressed a beer bottle to his forehead. Already warm, even though he had grabbed it from the fridge only moments earlier, as soon as he reached the house. The air conditioner was broken, so he had stripped off socks and shoes and sought refuge on the lawn. But when he wiggled his toes the grass felt toasted, crunchy. Like walking on burned coconut.

If he thought it would do any good, he would pray for rain. Almost every afternoon big thunderheads boiled up along the green line of Castro's mountains to the west, only to melt into the sunset without a drop. From up on this scorched hillside you couldn't even hear the soothing whisper of the Caribbean. Yet the sea was out there, he knew, just beyond the blackness of the southern horizon. Falk sensed it as a submerged phosphorescence pooling beneath coral bluffs, aglow like a candle in a locked closet. Or maybe his mind was playing tricks on him, a garden-variety case of Guantánamo loco.

It wasn't his first outbreak. Twelve years ago he had been posted here as a Marine, serving a three-year hitch. But he had almost forgotten how the perimeter of the base could seem to shrink by the hour, its noose of fencelines and humidity tightening by degrees. A Pentagon fact sheet for newcomers said that Gitmo—the military's favorite slang for this outpost—covered forty-five square miles. Like a lot of what the brass said, it was misleading. Much of the acreage was water or swamp. Habitable territory was mostly confined to a flinty wedge of six square miles. The plot marked out for Camp Delta and the barracks of the security forces was smaller still, pushed against the sea on fewer than a hundred acres.

Falk stood a few miles north of the camp. By daylight from his vantage point, with a good pair of binoculars, you could pick out Cuban watchtowers in almost every direction. They crouched along a no-man's-land of fences, minefields, wet tangles of mangrove, and scrubby hills of gnarled cactus. The fauna was straight out of a Charles Addams cartoon—vultures, boas, banana rats, scorpions, and giant iguanas. Magazines and newspapers for sale at the Naval Exchange were weeks old. Your cell phone was no good here, every landline was suspect, and e-mail traffic was monitored. Anyone who stayed for long learned to operate under the assumption that whatever you did could be seen or heard by their side or yours. Even on the free soil of a civilian's billet such as Falk's you never knew who might be eavesdropping, especially now that OPSEC—Operational Security—had become the mantra for Camp Delta's cult of secrecy. It was all enough to make Falk wish that Gitmo still went by its old Marine nickname—the Rock. Like Alcatraz.

He took another swallow of warm beer, still trying to calm down. Then the phone rang in the kitchen. He ran to answer in hopes of not waking his roomie, special agent Cal Whitaker, only to be greeted by the voice of Mitch Tyndall. Tyndall worked for the OGA, or Other Government Agency, which even the lowliest buck private could tell you was Gitmo-speak for the CIA.

"Hope I didn't wake you," Tyndall said.

"No way I'd be sleeping after that."

"That's what I figured. I was hoping to mend fences."

"The ones you just tore down?" Falk's anger returned in a hurry.

"Guilty as charged."

Tyndall sounded sheepish, new ground for him, although for the most part he wasn't a bad guy. A tall Midwesterner with a long fuse, he generally aimed to please as long as no sharing was required. Falk tended to get more out of him than others if only because they were part of the same five-member "tiger team," the organizational equivalent of a platoon in Gitmo's intelligence operation. There were some twenty-five tiger teams in all, little study groups of interrogators and analysts that divvied their turf by language and home country of the detainees. Falk's team was one of several that specialized in Saudis and Yemenis.

"Look, I spaced out," Tyndall continued. "Just blundered in there like a bull in a china shop. I wasn't thinking."

Occupational hazard with you Agency guys, Falk thought but didn't say. Unthinking arrogance came naturally, he supposed, when you were at the top of the food chain, rarely answerable to anyone, the Pentagon included. Teammates or not, there were plenty of places Tyndall could go that Falk couldn't. The CIA sometimes used a different set of interrogation rooms, and recently the Agency had even built its own jail, Camp Echo. It was Gitmo's prison within a prison, and its handful of high-priority inmates were identified by number instead of by name.

"Yeah, well, there seems to be a lot of mindlessness going around," Falk said.

"Agreed. So consider this a peace offering. Or an apology, at any rate. We might as well kiss and make up, considering where things are headed."

"The rumors, you mean? Spies in our midst? Arab linguists on a secret jihad?"

"It's not just rumor, not by a long shot."

Coming from Tyndall, that was significant, so Falk tried to goad him into saying more.

"Oh, I wouldn't believe everything you hear, Mitch."

Tyndall seemed on the verge of rising to the bait, then checked himself with a sigh.

"Whatever. In any case. No hard feelings?"

"None you couldn't fix with a favor or two. And maybe a few beers at the Tiki Bar. It's Adnan's feelings you should be worried about. I'll be lucky to get two words out of him after that little explosion. It's all about trust, Mitch. Trust is everything with these guys." He should have quit there, but his memory flashed on a slide they always showed at the FBI Academy in Quantico, a screen full of big letters saying, "Interrogation is overcoming resistance through compassion." So he pushed onward, a sentence too far: "Maybe if you guys would stop stripping 'em naked with the room at forty degrees you'd figure that out."

"I wouldn't believe everything you hear," Tyndall snapped.

"Whatever. Just stay away from Adnan. He's damaged goods as it is."

"No argument there. Tomorrow, then."

"Bright and early. And remember, you owe me."

Falk stared at the phone after hanging up, wondering if anyone bothered to tune in at this hour. Whitaker was no longer snoring down the hall.

"Sorry," Falk offered, just in case. "It was Tyndall. From the goddamn Agency."

No reply, which was just as well. The fewer people who knew about their little dustup, the better. People who ran afoul of Mitch Tyndall soon found themselves being shunned. It wasn't the man's winning personality that turned everyone against you, it was the perception that he was privy to the big picture, while all you had was a few fuzzy snapshots. So if you were on the outs with Tyndall, there must be an important reason, even if no one but him knew what it was. Falk had long ago concluded that Tyndall wasn't fully aware of his mysterious powers, and it probably would be unwise to clue him in.

The subject of their dispute this evening was a nineteen-year-old Yemeni, Adnan al-Hamdi, a pet project of Falk's if only because he would talk to no one else. Adnan had been captured in Afghanistan nearly two years earlier, during a skirmish just west of Jalalabad. He and sixty other misfit jihadists from Pakistan, Chechnya, and the Gulf States had been rounded up by Tadjik fighters of the Northern Alliance in the wake of the Taliban's mad-dash retreat to the south. They wound up rotting in a provincial prison for six weeks until discovered by the Americans. Adnan attracted special interest mostly on the word of a fellow traveler, an excitable old Pakistani who swore that Adnan was a ringleader. Adnan, in his usual monosyllabic way, said little to confirm or deny it, so into the net he fell, joining one of Guantanamo's earliest batches of imports. He arrived blindfolded and jumpsuited in the belly of a roaring cargo plane, back when the detention facility had been a rudimentary collection of monkey cages known as Camp X-Ray.

By the time Falk came aboard more than a year later, Adnan had been deemed a lost cause by Gitmo's resident shrinks, the Behavioral Science Consultation Team, known as Biscuit. He was a mute head case who regularly threw his own shit at the MPs, sometimes after mixing it with toothpaste or mashed potatoes.

So he was unloaded on Falk, whose linguistic specialty was the dialect of Adnan's hometown of Sana, only because Falk had visited the place during the Bureau's investigation of the bombing of the USS Cole, back in 2000.

Falk set about taming the young man with gossip and lies, tales embellished by bits of color recalled from Sana's dusty narrow streets. Before long Adnan at least was listening instead of shouting back or clamping hands over his ears. Occasionally he even spoke, if only to correct details that Falk got wrong. Progress was slow, but Falk knew from experience that hardness at such an early age didn't mean there were no remaining soft spots. Unlike most detainees, Adnan couldn't even grow a full beard, and to Falk the scruff on his chin was almost poignant, like an undernourished bloom in an abandoned garden.

Perhaps Falk also recognized a fellow loner. At age thirty-three he, too, was nominally alone in the world. He had no wife, no kids, no dog, and no fiancée waiting back in Washington. The Bureau's personnel file listed him as an orphan, a conclusion left over from a lie Falk had told a Marine Corps recruiter fifteen years ago in Bangor, half out of spite and half out of a runaway's yearning for a complete break. The recruiting sergeant could have easily flushed out the truth with a little more digging. But with a monthly enlistment quota to meet and a bonus of a week's leave hanging in the balance, he hadn't been inclined to question his good fortune once Falk walked through the door.

Besides, it had almost been true. Falk's mother left when he was ten. Shortly afterward his father began a love affair with the bottle. By now, for all Falk knew, the man really was dead, drowned by either alcohol or seawater.

His earliest memories of home weren't all that bad—a white clapboard farmhouse along a buckled road on Deer Isle, birch trees out back with leaves that flashed like silver dollars. There were five Falks in those days—an older brother, an older sister, his parents, and him. To stay warm in winter they slept head to toe in bedrolls around an ancient woodstove, arranged like dominoes on a creaking pine floor. At bath time they hauled in an aluminum washtub and poured hot water straight from the kettle, his mom scrubbing his skin pink while his sister laughed and covered her mouth.

When spring arrived his dad rode daily into Stonington, where the lobster boat was moored. He awakened at four, revving the Ford pickup until it rumbled like a B-17 on takeoff, its muffler shot from the salt air. After age twelve Falk accompanied him on summer mornings, although he remembered little of those harsh working days on the water apart from the chill of the wind in early June and the bitter cold of the sea, and the way his hands and feet never quite recovered until late September. Or maybe he didn't want to remember more, because by that time his father was drinking and his mother was gone.

Within a year they lost the house and moved to the woods, onto a stony lot of goldenrod and thistle where home was a sagging green trailer, the walls lined with flattened cereal boxes for insulation. In storms it heaved and moaned like a ship at sea. There were no more community sleeps. Everyone scattered to separate corners, and his brother and sister escaped as soon as they were old enough.

Falk sought refuge where he could find it—in the woods, on a cove, or at libraries, the tiny clapboard ones you came across in every community on the island. He took a particular liking to the one in the island's namesake town of Deer Isle, not only because it was closest but because it was the realm of steely-eyed Miss Clarkson. She demanded silence—exactly what Falk needed—and brooked neither nonsense nor intrusion, especially not from drunken males who came raging up the steps in search of wayward sons. In recalling her now, Falk realized she was the kind of woman he would always be attracted to—one who could glean the most from minimal conversation, as if she had an extra language skill. It was a little bit like being a good interrogator.

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  • Posted September 18, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Still Terrific

    Yes, late to catch this still timely, and still terrific, thriller from Dan Fesperman. His telling of the tale is admirable, yet I wonder if he didn't paint himself into too big of a corner as his ending seemed a bit of a copout. And for the record, Revere Falk, the main character, is an FBI agent in the book, as well as an interrogator.

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  • Posted February 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    timely topic - on target thriller

    Baltimore Sun Reporter Dan Fesperman is not only a terrific newsman but a first-rate novelist as well (The Small Boat of Great Sorrows, The Warlord¿s Son). His stories are as current as this morning¿s news and while sometimes troubling also thoroughly entertaining. Our setting is the Guantanamo base or Gitmo, the military originated slang name for this outpost. Gitmo,, as the world knows, is where suspected terrorists are incarcerated and interrogated. Life here doesn¿t amount to much as the suicide rate makes clear. ¿There had been five attempts inside the wire in the last two weeks, none successful and more than thirty since the prisoners first arrived.¿ Revere Falk is a former FBI agent now an interrogator at Gitmo. He qualified for this posting because of his fluency in Arabic, and his desire to keep some secrets in his past. For company he has found a career military woman who shares his assignment. Routine changes when the body of an American soldier, a reservist who was assigned to Guantanamo, is found on a Cuban beach. It¿s not long into Falk¿s investigation of this death before he realizes that what he had hoped to keep secret may be revealed. There a lot of action, much political maneuvering, and a wrenching picture of what can happen during the war on terror to be found in The Prisoner of Guantanamo plus, in this case, a riveting reading delivered by actor David Colacci. Highly recommended. - Gail Cooke

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    A terrific thriller

    The FBI sends Agent Revere Falk to Guantomino Bay as an Arabic translator since he is proficient in communicating in that language. His specific assignment involves a Yemeni prisoner Adnan with questionable ties to al-Qaeda. However, his efforts to break Adnan halts at least for now when the corpse of an American NCO washes onto beach on the Cuban side of the barrier.--------------- Falk is assigned to investigate the death of the reservist sergeant. He quickly learns the victim had been a Michigan banker in his civilian life, but was recently receiving letters from his family involving Cayman Island financial institutions. Pressure mounts on Falk to finish immediately as the military wants this incident to go away. Other demands also rise from a surprising local source that knows of Falk¿s indiscretions as a young marine years ago. Though he keeps digging, hints of culpability are tossed at him like Improvised Explosive Devices as someone like him must take the fall rank has its privileges nor will it be those connected.------------------- This is a terrific thriller that provides readers with an insightful look at Gitmo from what seems an insider¿s perspective. The descriptions are so detailed and powerful Cheney will probably accuse Dan Fesperman of abetting the enemy. However that depth also at times overwhelms the prime investigation plot as the fascination with the prison is the star draw. Fans will appreciate this deep look at Guantomino Bay inside a fine whodunit or perhaps better said is a fine whodunit inside a deep prison tour.------------- Harriet Klausner

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    Posted February 6, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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