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A U.S. major is brainwashed into spying for the Iraqis and purloining classified information in first-time novelist Braungart’s espionage thriller.

Iraqi agents who’ve specialized in hypnosis are sent to Germany with the hopes of using mind control against someone with the U.S. Army in Europe. Maj. Paul Remmich proves an ideal candidate, disillusioned by U.S. support for the U.N.’s refusal to help developing countries. Fellow West Point grad Maj. Eric Miller, recently transferred to Germany, soon notices a change in Remmich, who constantly sneaks off base and often carries a flash drive, and Miller suspects that his friend may be a spy. At nearly 700 pages, the novel has plenty of room for character development, and the author takes full advantage of it: Adnaw Alzuhari and Tara Yako are sent from Iraq to hypnotize and monitor Remmich; Dr. Mustafa is a dentist whose fillings include microchips for brainwashing; there’s another mole with the U.S. Armed Forces in Europe; and the Russians are spying on both the U.S. and Iraq. Sympathy for Remmich is fleeting. His personality disappears since his hypnotic state renders him an emotionless zombie, so it’s difficult not to prefer Alzuhari and Yako, whose mental manipulation of Remmich is handled with precision. But the story is easily stolen by Russian agent Yuriy Nikulin, an unremitting presence who opens the novel and, appearing throughout trailing the Iraqis and Americans while feeding his boss updates, has a resolve unlike that of any other character. The book tends to overdescribe action: The numerous USAREUR meetings often recap what readers already know and driving scenes are excessively detailed, like when Miller gets stuck in slow-moving traffic, which slows the story as well (contrasted with the amusing sequence of Nikulin enjoying the autobahn so much that he risks being spotted by Remmich, the man he’s following). The coda is both droll and impeccable.

Heavy on the page count, but has a considerable story and weighty characters to match.

Pub Date: June 23rd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0985219307
Page count: 688pp
Publisher: Susquehanna Publishing Co.
Program: Kirkus Indie
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