Dickey makes an ambitious bid to retool the American spy novel for a post-9/11 landscape.
Kurt Kurtovic is retired from killing for his principles. An ordinary American of Slav descent, he’s disaffected with both the revolutionary ideology that threw him together the Islamic jihad (Innocent Blood, 1997) and the change of heart led him to the Washington establishment, convinced now that “it is the builders who find their way to Paradise.” Not even little Westfield, Kansas, however, is immune to the aftershocks of the World Trade Center bombing. Soon after the Twin Towers collapse, CIA spook Marcus Griffin is at Kurt’s door urging him to return to the fight. Soon enough Kurt is en route to Ealing to see Abu Seif, a Bosnian preacher whose recent contacts have alarmed the CIA. One of those contacts thousands of miles away captures and tortures Kurt; another offers him a job setting out beehives on the fringe of a suspected terrorist camp. Through it all, he does his best to act like a loyal killing machine, sickened as he is by his fatal vocation. Even when he’s thrown into a Guantanamo jail so that he can rat out the prisoners who trust him because of his jihadist credentials, he’s still the good soldier. But his weary, principled disillusionment, so much more heartfelt and reasoned than the savvy posing of Adam Hall’s Quiller and his modish generation of superspies, leaves him disengaged from even the most harrowing episodes, as if his tortured conscience left him floating above the world’s nightmare. Even when his wife disappears and his daughter is kidnapped, Kurt’s earnest maundering makes it hard to take the danger to hearth and home seriously.
An uneasy mixture of New World Order ruminations and old-fashioned derring-do that shows just how hard le Carré must work to get the mixture of moral revulsion and conscientious tradecraft just right.