THE BLACK TULIP by Milt Bearden


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Set mostly in Afghanistan during the Soviet Union’s ill-fated invasion, a first novel by the man who ran the CIA’s covert operation there. Clearly, Bearden knows whereof he speaks and can well follow the zigs and zags of geopolitical maneuvering, not to mention having an easy familiarity with sophisticated weaponry. When he details a high-tech rescue operation on behalf of beleaguered Afghan freedom fighters, you believe every word as he convincingly captures the excitement—and terror—of war. Bearden’s swiftness and sureness of pacing draw the reader in, but good storytelling also needs alluring characters whom readers can care about—and while his story clamors for rounded, complex people, Bearden doesn’t supply them. The plot here centers on negotiations over a captured Soviet lieutenant who turns out to be the son of the Soviet commanding general. Helping the Afghans is Alexander Fannin, half Russian, half Ukrainian, and a naturalized American. Fannin is a former CIA officer and also a dedicated idealist who’s convinced the Afghan cause is just. On the opposite side is Anatoly Klimenko, a KGB colonel who just happens to have a close tie to Fannin, the nature of which will come as a surprise to both, though perhaps less so to the alert reader. These are men of sterling character, unflinching courage, endless resourcefulness—and an unfortunate absence of warts. What Bearden’s story desperately needs is someone like a George Smiley, who can be fooled, even betrayed, and whose vulnerability will make a reader root for his survival and rejoice in his occasional triumphs. Still, a better-than-average debut thriller from a writer who, next time out, may be willing to swap some technological complexity for the human kind. (Author tour)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-44791-1
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998


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