Fans of Johnson's NBA finalist Le Divorce will know what to expect: a fish-out-of-water story about a clash of cultures. Still, the tone and scope of this agreeable if quiet story owes more to the author's early work-Persian Nights, in particular-than the better-known ones about Franco-American culture clashes. Like that 1987 book, this one has more than a soupçon of politics thrown into its cultural comedy of manners. Lulu Sawyer is a CIA agent who arrives in Morocco, both to rekindle her romance with worldly English boyfriend Ian and to trace the flow of Western money to radical Islamic groups. She meets with characters both Western and Eastern, which allows for some typically Johnsonian observations ("[Honor killing is] not so common among Algerians.... It's usually the Turks," opines one character). The book works best in small moments and in scenes involving the supporting characters, but the central plot-about Lulu and Ian's relationship-never quite catches fire, and Lulu-as-CIA-agent seems tired and unnecessary. Most fans will wade through the overdetermined plot to get to the sly asides and the astute observation that are and always have been Johnson's forte. (Oct.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In her first novel in five years (after L'Affaire), Johnson moves operations out of France and south to Morocco. In a Notorious-style intrigue, Lulu Sawyer is a CIA spy infiltrating the expatriate community in Marrakech. While undercover, she stays at the villa of her wealthy British boyfriend, where she meets a wide cast of characters who could all be innocent bystanders or double agents. They include her Moroccan contact, a young French-Muslim girl escaping certain death in Paris, a gorgeous Saudi wife, and a brother come to exact an honor killing. Morocco is not an original location for a spy story (think Casablanca and The Man Who Knew Too Much), but it works well as a showcase for modern issues like Muslim extremists, terrorism, and money laundering. Sprinkled with deception, romances, and quotes from the Qu'ran, this novel makes a good read, despite its rather unsatisfactory ending. Johnson's Francophile fans may be disappointed with this change in location from her popular Paris-set novels (Le Divorce, Le Mariage, L'Affaire), but other readers, particularly those interested in spy stories or mysteries with a strong female protagonist, will enjoy this. Recommended for fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ6/1/08.]
Johnson (L'Affaire, 2003, etc.) breaks new ground by making her American expatriate a CIA spy in Morocco. Thirty-something Lulu Sawyer is on her second assignment. In Kosovo she had begun an affair with an Englishman, Ian Drumm, a wealthy businessman based in Marrakech, where Lulu is now posted. Her cover will include her affair and her work on female literacy programs. Her low-level mission is to gather intelligence on the money trail feeding terrorists. She will be disowned if caught, but that's OK with Lulu, who's looking for adventure and happy to be reunited with Ian at his luxurious estate with its colorful houseguests, both British and American expats. This is not a conventional espionage novel. While Johnson tracks Lulu's tradecraft, she also explores the Western/Islamic divide, illustrated most vividly by different attitudes toward Islam's great prize, virginity, and the dilemma of their neighbor Suma, a young Parisian Muslim in flight from her brother Amid, bent on vengeance for her presumed loss of virginity. The plot thickens when Amid arrives in Marrakech followed by Lulu's case officer, who has tagged him a terrorist. Another complication arises when a Saudi woman, Gazi, leaves her husband for the sanctuary of Ian's home and Lulu realizes they've been conducting their own affair. It's even possible that Ian himself is in cahoots with the terrorists. Bombs go off around the city and Lulu finds herself a principal in a kidnapping that ends in a death. The Americans have messed up; Lulu is one of the fall guys. By now she has grasped that she's "too goody-two-shoes" to be a successful spy, while her love for Ian has deepened. Curiously, though, Johnson has her act out ofcharacter, breaking up with Ian and taking another assignment in London. As stimulating as Johnson's previous work, but there are too many loose ends (an unexplained fire, the fate of a kid nabbed by Moroccan security) and the resolution disappoints. Agent: Lynn Nesbit/Janklow & Nesbit
“Timely and provocatively incorrect, Lulu in Marrakech is part page-turning thriller, part in-depth examination of gender inequality and the ‘perennial eye infection of colonialism.’"—Oprah.com (Mysteries Every Thinking Woman Should Read)
“She has blended her interest in heavier issues with a lightness of touch… Johnson's novel is not only a gripping page-turner—I don't know when I last just plain enjoyed reading a novel as much as this one—but a serious examination of how a "good person" can get involved in some very dark things.”—Martin Rubin, SFGATE
“As the bemused observer of a complicated, chatty multicultural social set—and her own complicated romantic yearnings—[Lulu]’s a cool, self-aware delight.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Johnson breaks new ground by making her American expatriate a CIA spy in Morocco… As stimulating as Johnson’s previous work.”—Kirkus Reviews