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The Cover Wife: A novel

The Cover Wife: A novel

by Dan Fesperman


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Notes From Your Bookseller

If you enjoyed reading our April 2022 Rediscovered Classic, Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy by John le Carré, or have any interest in the Apple TV series adaptation of Mick Herron’s Slow Horses with Gary Oldman, then get ready to immerse yourself in U.S. spy craft intrigue in Dan Fesperman’s The Cover Wife. Instead of the UK’s MI5 and MI6, we get thrown into the world of the CIA and FBI. Fesperman creates short, sharp and shocking chapters to propel the story. Every other chapter throws the readers for a loop, just as it does the main characters.

From the award-winning author of Safe Houses—an electrifying new novel about a CIA agent and a young expat who find themselves caught up in a dangerous world, whose secrets, if revealed, could have disastrous repercussions for them both.

When CIA agent Claire Saylor is told that she’ll be going undercover in Hamburg to pose as the wife of an academic who has published a controversial interpretation of the Quran’s promise to martyrs, she assumes the job is a punishment for past unorthodox behavior. But when she discovers her team leader is Paul Bridger, another Agency maverick, she realizes there may be more to this mission than meets the eye—and not just for professional reasons.

Meanwhile, across town in Hamburg, Mahmoud, a recent Moroccan émigré, begins to fall under the sway of a group of radicals at his local mosque. The deeper he’s drawn into the group, the greater the danger he faces, and he is soon torn between his obligations to them and his feelings toward a beautiful westernized Muslim woman.

As Claire learns the truth about her mission, and Mahmoud grows closer to the radicals, the danger between them builds and spells disaster far beyond the CIA.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525657835
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/06/2021
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 460,045
Product dimensions: 6.60(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

DAN FESPERMAN's travels as a journalist and novelist have taken him to thirty countries and three war zones. Lie in the Dark won the Crime Writers' Association of Britain's John Creasey New Blood 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 Hammett Prize from the International Association of Crime Writers. He lives in Baltimore.

Read an Excerpt


The rain clouds parted an hour before sunset, and the hiker’s shadow finally rejoined him on the mountain trail, his only companion all day. Or so he hoped.

Ascending to a granite outcrop with a sweeping view, he paused to look back at the way he’d come: lacy spring foliage and a meadow in bloom, with the trail stitched through it like a dirty suture. Not a soul on it.

The air was golden with pollen, and he considered digging into his pack for an allergy pill before remembering he’d already taken one. He cleared his throat, spit, and immediately regretted it. He rubbed the spot with the toe of his boot, only to make a bigger mess. Sighing, he checked his watch and set off.

Still lurking to his rear was the unseen presence that had haunted him since dawn. All in his head, perhaps, but the reports from the briefing had been sobering enough: two men, well trained and unaccounted for, meaning they might be anywhere. He imagined them back there now, moving briskly just beyond the nearest ridge. He picked up the pace.

A mile later, reaching the level grade of a narrow ridge, he eased into a long and limber stride. Better. His scuffed old boots were a comfort, a reminder of past hikes among friends. Their voices returned to him in the murmur of the leaves, the creak of swaying limbs—­distant echoes of dewy mornings and twilight encampments, those long-­ago weekends when they would cook up a hearty fireside meal and scrub their mess kits in the gravel of a stream. A tin cup of whiskey to pass around the campfire, everyone carried off to slumber on a tide of laughter and familiar old tales.

Caught up in his memories, he imagined himself later that night, rubbing his hands for warmth as he brewed coffee on a tidy blaze. Or, no, because that would be like lighting a beacon in the night. So instead he would boil water on his tiny stove, eat one of those dehydrated meals from a pouch. He would turn in early, listening carefully from his tent to the noises of the night. Sleep as well as he could, and then rise before dawn.

An old song came to mind, so he whistled a bar just to hear the sound of something human, his footsteps keeping rhythm as the trail steepened. The last notes drifted up into the trees and he fell silent, conserving his breath for the climb. He recalled a boyhood tale of a cavalry scout trying to outrun the Comanches, in which days had turned to weeks. He had packed enough food for five nights, but what if he needed to re­supply?

From above came the grumble of a single-­engine plane, which stopped him in his tracks. He remained still for a full minute, watching as it passed low enough for him to read the tail number. No one had mentioned this possibility, although he supposed it was within their capabilities. Various weapons had been discussed, of course. But this? Yet here he was, cowering beneath the leaves. Sunlight glinted off the fuselage as the plane moved toward the horizon. He exhaled and reached for his water bottle. Yet again he gazed back at the way he’d come.

The trail was still empty, so he allowed himself a moment to enjoy the view. There was much to admire—­low sunlight sparkled in the wet branches like diamonds, or the twinkle of a vast city in a valley, stirring to life at dusk. The forest smelled as fresh as a mown pasture, and birdsong was everywhere, the final chorus before nightfall. Such beauty. And for the first time all week, he took hope.

Smiling, he drew a deep breath of the clean mountain air and resumed walking. He had covered fourteen miles today, a tiring distance at his age, but “a good tired,” as his wife liked to say, the kind that settled your mind for a deep and healing sleep. So, after another mile, he decided to leave the trail to scout for a campsite.

The good omens multiplied. He quickly found a level patch of downy grass beneath a spreading beech, where a pale band of fallen leaves pointed like an arrow to the optimum spot. It was like an illustration for a fairy tale, a place of enchantment.

He heaved off his pack, set it down by a big log, and unzipped the top. Fresh, cooling air rushed up the back of his shirt, and the crinkly tent released old, familiar smells as he flattened it on the grass. The rituals of making camp were a comfort, and it felt as if the forest had enveloped him in its arms. Nature, so often harsh, was for the moment his cloak of invisibility. This was his home ground, not theirs, and that counted for plenty.

Yet as he slid the tent poles into their sleeves he noticed that the birds were no longer singing. Were they done for the day, or had something put them on notice? The wind shifted, and for a fleeting moment he thought he detected a whiff of something human—­sweat, soap, the smell of exertion. Or maybe it was his own scent, coming back to him on the turning breeze. The hairs on his arms stood on end.

A twig snapped to his rear, and he nearly lost balance as he wheeled awkwardly and rose from his crouch. Looking left, then right, then over his shoulder toward the trail, he saw only the brown expanse of the forest floor, leaves and limbs, the white flash of a squirrel’s belly as it leaped from tree to tree. But the odd smell lingered, unmistakable now, and he remained still.

To his rear, the thump of a footfall. He spun as a metallic click sounded from the edge of the clearing, and he saw a man dressed in black just as the bolt from a crossbow struck him below the breastbone and plunged into his heart. Crying out in agony, he slumped to his knees and collapsed sideways. Blood pooled brightly on the deflating tent, and his eyes rolled back in his head. He gasped for breath, but no air would come.

The birds held their silence. The only sound now was of footsteps approaching steadily across the leaves. They halted, a moment of peace interrupted by the click of a camera—­twice, as if to make sure. Then, two more steps, followed by a grunt of effort, and the slurping, ripping sound of the bolt being pulled from muscle and flesh.

Unable to move or speak, he groaned a final time. His last thought was of disappointment in himself for having mistaken beauty for hope. The woods had failed him, and he had failed himself.

The footsteps receded. The birds again took up their song, sounding the all-­clear from the trees.

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