Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The craft of espionage, and the political clout needed to keep afloat in the game, are bared in ex-agent Bearden's promising debut, a valentine to late CIA director Bill Casey set in the late 1980s during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Hounded by eager mole-hunter Graham Middleton, Russian-born American agent Alexander Fannin opts out of the Agency, but Casey enlists him to freelance as his cat's paw in Afghanistan, supplying the mujahideen and planning sorties against the Russians. Capture of a Russian general's son pits Fannin against his KGB counterpart Anatoly Klimenkocoincidentally a cousin, who decides to defect and helps Fannin speed Russia's exit from Afghanistan barely a tense step ahead of a KGB official with a grudge against Klimenko. Bearden soft-pedals the horrors of the war and concentrates on the stringpullers from both sides as KGB and CIA field agents dodge each other and their own hierarchies as they maneuver Afghan and Russian pawns to win the game. Deft twists and battle scenes, crisply lucid technical details, hair-trigger tension and strong characters drive the plot, but the too-sparse dialogue slows the read. Still, the mechanics of Cold War espionage have seldom been so tangible. Author tour. (May)
In this debut, Bearden draws on his experience as the CIA officer in charge of the covert war in Afghanistan to craft a thriller about a former CIA officer in Afghanistan who must hook up with a KGB colonel.
Set mostly in Afghanistan during the Soviet Unionþs ill-fated invasion, a first novel by the man who ran the CIAþs covert operation there. Clearly, Bearden knows whereof he speaks and can well follow the zigs and zags of geopolitical maneuvering, not to mention having an easy familiarity with sophisticated weaponry. When he details a high-tech rescue operation on behalf of beleaguered Afghan freedom fighters, you believe every word as he convincingly captures the excitementþand terrorþof war. Bearden's swiftness and sureness of pacing draw the reader in, but good storytelling also needs alluring characters whom readers can care aboutþand while his story clamors for rounded, complex people, Bearden doesn't supply them. The plot here centers on negotiations over a captured Soviet lieutenant who turns out to be the son of the Soviet commanding general. Helping the Afghans is Alexander Fannin, half Russian, half Ukrainian, and a naturalized American. Fannin is a former CIA officer and also a dedicated idealist whoþs convinced the Afghan cause is just. On the opposite side is Anatoly Klimenko, a KGB colonel who just happens to have a close tie to Fannin, the nature of which will come as a surprise to both, though perhaps less so to the alert reader. These are men of sterling character, unflinching courage, endless resourcefulnessþand an unfortunate absence of warts. What Beardenþs story desperately needs is someone like a George Smiley, who can be fooled, even betrayed, and whose vulnerability will make a reader root for his survival and rejoice in his occasional triumphs. Still, a better-than-average debut thriller from a writer who, nexttime out, may be willing to swap some technological complexity for the human kind. (Author tour)
From the Publisher
“Milt Bearden really delivers. With thirty years in the CIA to back it up, he knows what he’s talking about. . . . A terrific book.”
—Robert De Niro
“A heart-stopping tale of espionage and betrayal. Forget Tom Clancy: this is the real thing.”
“In this suspense-filled thriller, the man who ran the closing phases of the Afghan war for the Agency takes his readers on a stunning voyage of discovery through that clandestine world, from Kabul to Hong Kong and the Moscow of the Evil Empire.” —Larry Collins, co-author of Is Paris Burning?
“A truly engrossing espionage read . . . Bearden explains how the CIA supplied Afghan guerrillas with the hardware—rockets, Stinger surface-to-air missiles, and night-vision equipment—which enabled them to chew a vastly stronger Soviet force to bloody ribbons. . . . Highly recommended.” —The Washington Times