Johnson (L’Affaire, 2003, etc.) breaks new ground by making her American expatriate a CIA spy in Morocco.
Thirty-something Lulu Sawyer is on her second assignment. In Kosovo she had begun an affair with an Englishman, Ian Drumm, a wealthy businessman based in Marrakech, where Lulu is now posted. Her cover will include her affair and her work on female literacy programs. Her low-level mission is to gather intelligence on the money trail feeding terrorists. She will be disowned if caught, but that’s OK with Lulu, who’s looking for adventure and happy to be reunited with Ian at his luxurious estate with its colorful houseguests, both British and American expats. This is not a conventional espionage novel. While Johnson tracks Lulu’s tradecraft, she also explores the Western/Islamic divide, illustrated most vividly by different attitudes toward Islam’s great prize, virginity, and the dilemma of their neighbor Suma, a young Parisian Muslim in flight from her brother Amid, bent on vengeance for her presumed loss of virginity. The plot thickens when Amid arrives in Marrakech followed by Lulu’s case officer, who has tagged him a terrorist. Another complication arises when a Saudi woman, Gazi, leaves her husband for the sanctuary of Ian’s home and Lulu realizes they’ve been conducting their own affair. It’s even possible that Ian himself is in cahoots with the terrorists. Bombs go off around the city and Lulu finds herself a principal in a kidnapping that ends in a death. The Americans have messed up; Lulu is one of the fall guys. By now she has grasped that she’s “too goody-two-shoes” to be a successful spy, while her love for Ian has deepened. Curiously, though, Johnson has her act out of character, breaking up with Ian and taking another assignment in London.
As stimulating as Johnson’s previous work, but there are too many loose ends (an unexplained fire, the fate of a kid nabbed by Moroccan security) and the resolution disappoints.