Setting an espionage thriller in the Middle East is tricky. During the months between the editing and the publishing of Robert Littell's latest suspense novel, the Hamas party won the majority of seats on the Palestinian legislative council, and the open conflict that some of the characters in Vicious Circle seek to prevent is now unfolding on CNN and al-Jazeera. None of this, though, dilutes Littell's central thesis (or spoils his muscularly plotted suspense). In his speculative game of three-dimensional chess, the pieces may not reflect recent history, but it's a game that never reaches checkmate.
The Washington Post
Veteran espionage writer Littell, whose 1973 debut, The Defection of A.J. Lewinter, prompted critics to compare him to such British masters as Eric Ambler and John le Carr , stumbles a bit with his take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, set in a near, post-George W. Bush future. An unnamed woman, who will remind many of Hillary Clinton, is president of the U.S., while, less plausibly, the Palestinian Authority is led by Arafat's successor, who's also nameless. Given Hamas's electoral victory in early 2006, the plot, which centers on yet another U.S.-brokered effort to create a lasting Middle East peace, has already been overtaken by events. The relationship between a terrorist leader and his hostage, a right-wing rabbi and agitator, may intrigue those who can overlook the dated scenario. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
This boiling cauldron of intrigue takes place in the volatile Holy Land of the near future. When the Arab leader of a terrorist faction kidnaps a rabbi who heads an ultraconservative settlers' group, Israeli security services go on red alert. In adding a smart-alecky American reporter to the mix, Littell (The Company) ratchets up the action to a heart-bursting sprint that stops only for big gulps of violence and torture. What makes this book unforgettable is the extraordinary relationship between kidnapper and victim. Extremists both, they joust with vehement hatred yet are strangely drawn together. Littell's acute portrayal of their inflamed psychological states illuminates an understanding that goes far beyond the day's headlines. For all public libraries where espionage tales populate the reserve lists. Barbara Conaty, Falls Church, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Suspenseful and serious thriller from Littell (Legends, 2005, etc.) depicts the Middle East as a place in which positions are depressingly circular, behavior remorselessly vicious. Fundamentalist rabbi Isaac Apfulbaum gets himself kidnapped by fundamentalist terrorist Dr. Isma'l al-Shaath, triggering a crisis noteworthy even in that crisis-ridden land. The ensuing demands follow a familiar enough pattern. The Israeli government, it's told, must release scores of Palestinian prisoners. Failure to do so will result in the rabbi's execution. Of course, the deadline is tight. Legendary Mossad spymaster Elihu is called out of retirement because so much hangs in the balance. A peace plan brokered by the US looks as if it might actually succeed. Agreed to by both contending parties, it's scheduled for signing in Washington in just nine days. But every Middle East expert worth the label knows that if the kidnapped rabbi becomes a defunct rabbi, all bets are off. The Israelis will do what's necessary to collect their eye for an eye, and the vengeance cycle will be freshly minted. "We both live by the same creed," a weary and discouraged Elihu says, with some bitterness. "One of them will exact vengeance, then we'll exact vengeance for vengeance." Meanwhile, an unexpected bond is being forged. The rabbi and his captor, both radicals, ferocious religionists and would-be messiahs, have discovered a kindred spirit. If things had been different, the doctor says to the rabbi, "you would have been my brother." But things aren't different, and in the blood-soaked denouement, brotherhood, of course, comes up short. Authoritative, sharply observed, remarkably evenhanded-neither side gets a free passhere-and, as usual, first-rate.
"A searing, thrilling, intelligent and often blackly funny book . . . [by] the finest American writer of espionage fiction."
-John Connolly, author of The Black Angel
"Muscularly plotted suspense"
-The Washington Post
"A suspenseful and serious thriller."
-Kirkus Reviewsstarred review "A tale to hold its own with . . . John le CarrT's The Little Drummer Girl . . . and Robert Stone's Damascus Gate.L"
-Booklist, starred review