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by Dan Fesperman
Vintage/Black Lizard, March 2009
384 pages
ISBN: 1400096154

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Let's get this out of the way up front: Dan Fesperman is a terrific writer. His debut, LIE IN THE DARK, evoked Sarajevo under siege with expressive and moving authority. He has since written three other excellent novels. His fifth, THE AMATEUR SPY, isn't the best of the lot.

The book opens with two battered and exhausted aid workers retiring to a quiet life on a Greek Island until a crew of covert operators break into their house and use physical violence and psychological threats to persuade Freeman to go back into the field. Only this time he's not working for a humanitarian organization, he's spying on an old friend for a shadowy US agency. Meanwhile, in Washington DC a Palestinian-American woman grows increasingly uneasy as her husband's frustration nudges him toward taking violent action against the power structure that he feels contributed to his daughter's death. Just as Freeman is torn between loyalty to his friend and dread about the threat that government officials hold over him, Aliyah wants to protect her husband while being terrified of the consequences if his subsumed rage turns into action.

Fesperman understands the complexity of world affairs - and of the human heart. He draws a vivid and engaging picture of Amman and the cross-currents of Palestinian and Jordanian communities living in uneasy peace together. But Fesperman's skillful writing is undermined by two things: an uncharacteristically unsubtle action-oriented plotline, complete with a ticking clock, and muddled motivation on the part of the two lead characters. They sometimes sacrifice common sense to help the plot move along especially glaring when the characters are drawn in such careful detail.

All that said, there's much to like about THE AMATEUR SPY. It's a pretty good book from a great writer. I'm looking forward to seeing what he does next.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, April 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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