In Goldberg’s debut thriller, the mid-1980s’ war on terrorism is waged via military action, covert operations and propaganda.
After terrorists successfully carry out devastating attacks in crowded European airports, the media reports that the perpetrators were funded by the Libyan government. The U.S. responds with a tactical strike against Libya; at the same time, the CIA hopes to recruit that country’s foreign minister, Abdallah Mukhtar, who’s frustrated with the Libyan leadership and may be on the verge of resigning. Mike Garnett, the head of the CIA’s Propaganda Operations, produces a video to sway Mukhtar into believing his son’s death in a helicopter crash was actually a murder ordered by a Libyan official. The plan doesn’t turn out quite as anticipated, however, due to a bombing in retaliation for the U.S. strike and a subsequent American military assault. As a result, the agency mounts a daring retrieval of Mukhtar using its best weapons: covert agents and propaganda. The novel highlights military strategy in scenes derived from real-world events, such as the 1986 bombing of a German disco that targeted American soldiers. However, its true focus is on clandestine operations. Garnett, for example, aptly declares that he’s in the “deception business,” and he generally stays away from the action. The CIA, likewise, sees more value in recruiting new assets than it does in the information those assets obtain. Goldberg’s plot is all business, often avoiding humor and frivolous dialogue. This, for the most part, works to the story’s advantage; it maintains an impressive pace as it bounces from scene to scene in relatively short chapters. But in some instances, such brevity can be detrimental, particularly to character development; for example, two CIA assets, the NOC (nonofficial cover) and the Oilman, have no real names, and they come across as cold, impassive soldiers unworthy of sympathy. Mukhtar, on the other hand, is an invigorating character, and despite his involvement in numerous atrocities, he’ll likely inspire readers’ compassion. The story’s memorable ending adamantly refuses to offer easy answers.
A remarkable thriller that delivers exactly what its title promises, despite a few disconnected characters.