Middle East intrigue swirls around an aid worker forced into a clandestine post-retirement mission—more classy suspense from Fesperman (The Prisoner of Guantánamo, 2006, etc.).
Freeman Lockhart and his wife Mila have paid their dues. The two UN aid workers (he’s American, she’s Bosnian Serb) met during the siege of Sarajevo in 1992, then moved on to equally stressful assignments in Rwanda and Tanzania. Now they’re retiring to their new home on a Greek island, but their first night is interrupted by three spooks (Freeman assumes they’re CIA). They take Freeman to a nearby empty villa. They want him to go to Amman, Jordan, to check out a former colleague, Omar al-Baroody, a Palestinian. Omar has his own operation now, raising money for a hospital. But is it a front? Freeman’s role will be to follow the money trail. He agrees in an effort to protect his wife: In Tanzania, Mila inadvertently caused a bloodbath, and Freeman wants desperately to protect her from this knowledge, but unless he plays ball, the spooks will enlighten her. In Amman he finds a welcoming Omar (Freeman will be his director of programs) but bitter rivalries among his cohorts. Fesperman, who has traveled widely, provides details with an insider’s mastery: The gritty Bakaa refugee camp, a run-in with Jordan’s own spy outfit and hairy side trips to Athens and Jerusalem are all nailed to perfection. Unfortunately, there is a parallel, much less convincing, story line involving a Palestinian-American married couple in suburban Washington. Their daughter has died, a victim of post-9/11 Arab profiling, and the father, a top surgeon, is plotting a spectacular revenge. Omar and Freeman’s handlers recede into the background as the surgeon’s wife, Aliyah, arrives in Amman, pursuing her own agenda. To add to the confusion, bombs are detonated by an unidentified group at three Amman hotels, killing scores. The hokey climax has Freeman confronting the surgeon in Washington.
Despite the flaws, well worth reading—Fesperman’s empathy for his protagonists, struggling to do the right thing, is impressive.