During a rocket attack on his military base in Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires, a young American diplomat isn't running for the bunker. He's in bed with a missionary aid worker.
Sonny Sonnenfeld is a foreign service officer with the U.S. Agency for International Development. He's been posted to a strategic but forgotten corner of war-torn Afghanistan where he's the sole civilian representative of the U.S. government and its money. Clara Santos is the sole aid worker still brave enough--or crazy enough--to stick it out in this violent backwater province. She's a beautiful, conflicted woman and Sonny has fallen for her hard.
Then Clara goes missing in Zargari, a godforsaken desert town crawling with insurgents and drug-runners. What she was doing down there, no one knows. Armed only with his wits and an iPod loaded with jazz, Sonny plunges into a desperate search for Clara. From dusty forward operating bases to a garish narco-palace to a lonely Silk Road ruin, Sonny uncovers the plots and counter-plots swirling around Clara's disappearance. His survival depends on knowing who to trust. But he quickly learns that in a murky war zone like this one, cold-blooded killers and con-men can be heroes and anyone can be the enemy--Marines, insurgents, his own Afghan colleagues, a druglord wearing makeup and bling, and most especially a cross-dressing, rifle-toting American businesswoman who's playing a very deep game. Even as he's drawn to her, Sonny trusts her least of all. He's forced to wrestle with his own best and worst instincts in this page-turning thriller that wrestles with the dark complexities of America at war. The labyrinth of conspiracies and betrayals is made vividly real by journalist Kristin Henderson's experience reporting with Marines and diplomats in Afghanistan.
In the end, on a velvety green wheat field surrounded by endless acres of opium poppy, Sonny's dogged pursuit of the truth erupts in both betrayal and redemption.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I'm not generally a reader of thrillers, but I was interested in this book because of its setting in 21st-century Afghanistan, and its exploration of the mind-boggling obstacles involved in "nation building." The protagonist, Sonny, works for the US Agency for International Development. Sonny is involved in a deeply emotional and somewhat difficult love affair with Clara, the local head of an operation that opens and maintains health clinics for the benefit of children and women in the province. Clara is a dedicated and religious woman, in love with Sonny, but conflicted about her own (mostly repressed) sexuality. When Clara is kidnapped, Sonny, with little to go on, is determined to find her and save her life in spite of the odds. From this premise, Henderson explores many aspects of a complex and difficult-to-understand culture, as well as the economic and logistical issues involved in promoting development in a region that is extremely poor and historically dependent on the drug trade. While layering on complications concerning Clara's disappearance, Henderson gives us glimpses into the lives and personalities of a wide range of Afghanis and foreigners (military personnel, civilian government aid workers, private contractors, and employees of non-governmental aid organizations). The reason this isn't a 5-star review is that I found Sonny a bit underdrawn. Most of the other characters display their strengths and weaknesses (or dark and light sides) in abundance. About Sonny we learn relatively little -- he has a great interest in jazz, seems to have a sensitive nature, and everyone thinks he's very good at his job. I found that hard to judge and did not really connect with him as much as I would like. I found the other characters, particularly the Afghanis (who display a believably wide range of motivations and personalities), to be sufficiently complex to hold my interest. Henderson includes enough believable twists to keep you (and Sonny) guessing about who did what right up until the end.
"The Zargari Incident" engages you from the first sentence and takes you on a roller coaster ride of emotion and excitement. Part love story and part geopolitical thriller, it features lead characters you'll not soon forget and plenty of twists and turns to keep you on your toes! I can't wait for Henderson's companion book about female combat pilot Tinker Jones!