A man working for the American Embassy in Lebanon employs whatever means necessary to expose the organization behind a series of car bombings.
Conrad Prosser, immersed in the civil disorder of early-’80s Beirut, excels at gathering intelligence but is overlooked for a promotion as he is unable to proficiently handle the “essential task” of recruiting agents. Car bombings are escalating while Prosser begins courting Rima, sister to a prospective recruit. Prosser’s information traces some of the city’s unrest to the precarious Col. Hisham, but while he learns that a foreign (American) spy has been targeted for assassination, he doesn’t seem to realize that someone is following him. Author Fleming’s (Star Chamber Brotherhood, 2010, etc.) novel adequately details the lives of people accustomed to a land besieged by violence. Prosser passes by armed militiamen during a morning jog; a baseball game is interrupted by exploding artillery shells, and then quickly recommences to preclude a forfeit; sentries at a checkpoint wave drivers through, despite the obvious presence of a sniper just ahead. Survival seems predicated on caution and paranoia, as Prosser is particularly careful when meeting with agents, even going so far as to travel an alternate route to elude potential surveillance. Prosser is multifaceted, fully capable and perceptive, but steadfast in his distrust. As such, those who know him are kept at a distance, like the spy using an alias for each of his sources of intel (a different name for each man) and his girlfriend little more than a way to advance his career. The possibility of bloodshed at any moment makes simply driving in congested traffic a white-knuckle affair and keeps the story at a constantly elevated level of suspense. The strongest point of Fleming’s novel is its ambiance, as the characters are surrounded by the sounds of warfare. There are ample action sequences, but with Prosser hearing guns constantly fired, even the more languid moments move with a searing undertone. A persistent reminder of Beirut’s hostilities seems to justify Prosser’s lingering doubt of others, adding an edge to any interaction he has.
Uncertainty among the characters coupled with relentless gunfire and explosions make for an extraordinary novel, each page just as eruptive as the city which provides the setting.