STROKES OF STATE by Ben  Harris

STROKES OF STATE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In Harris’ debut political thriller, the deaths of two suspected spies in Pakistan threaten to spark a war.

Someone has killed a couple of American Embassy staffers in a gunfight in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. It’s clear that the local Inter-Services Intelligence director, Gen. Diya Phadkar, has little interest in investigating the murders, as he believes the staffers were working for the CIA. He’s right, although the U.S. government certainly won’t confirm it; instead, it sends an FBI team to investigate. A subsequent firebombing results in an ISI agent’s death; it seems connected to the first attack, but the ISI is convinced it’s actually a cover for American retaliation. The FBI doesn’t respond well to Phadkar suspending the American side of the joint investigation, so ISI agents arrest and detain the feds. Covert American operative Clint Meyers and his team, meanwhile, are in Pakistan, ready for unofficial work, such as abducting and torturing someone for information or possibly liberating the FBI team leader that Phadkar has in custody. U.S. President John Dawson wants to cut Pakistan’s financial aid—a move that some in Congress believe could start a war; meanwhile, terrorists with a nuclear device watch everything unfold and await their time to strike. Harris’ novel is predominantly comprised of dialogue, and characters’ discourse provides much of the action throughout. When Dawson, for example, goes head-to-head with Phadkar and others, it’s almost exclusively from inside the White House. The author does offer a few riveting action scenes, though, including occasional helicopter or drone assaults and an attempt to unseat the Pakistani prime minister. The characters are dynamic, as well; at least one enemy becomes a surprising ally, and good guys sometimes resort to dubious methods. There’s not much nuance in all the political maneuvering, but Meyers’ transparent affection for his Pakistani contact, Nada, is a breath of fresh air—even if she doesn’t know his real name.

An international tale with sturdy characters and a steady pace.

Page count: 775pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2018




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