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The Amateur Spy by Dan Fesperman
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The Amateur Spy (2008)

by Dan Fesperman

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Showing 5 of 5
‘The Amateur Spy’ was a bit of a disappointment, mainly because I couldn’t get past a couple situations that didn’t pass the smell test for me. I’ll get to those in a minute.

Dan Fesperman’s novel begins with a married couple of ex-NGO aid workers retired to a little house on a Greek island. They’re surprised by 3 CIA types who use some of the man’s past history to force him to undertake a spying mission for them in Jordan. The target is a former co-worker running a charity who is now suspected to be supporting terrorists. The man accepts a position in his friend’s organization and begins snooping around. A parallel plot involves an Arab-American doctor with a grudge who is planning a terrorist attack on American government officials. The plots converge at the end, with both being resolved in unexpected ways.

So, Fesperman can write and his dialogue is ok, meaning the problems I had weren’t related to his prose as much as with unrealistic situations. In my opinion, there were many, but the 2 that bothered me the most were related to the initial ‘kidnapping’ and the ongoing spying on the man’s employer. Initially, ‘turning’ the man was just too easy and the convergence of factors that led to it was very unlikely (his suspected terrorist just happens to have a job opening, the man and his wife live on a secluded island, a house owned by a ‘friend’ of the CIA-types happened to be vacant and available for their use during the abduction). The other thing that really bugged me was the fact that the man was able to flit around various Middle Eastern countries and cities asking extremely sensitive questions about his hyper-connected employer without his finding out about it. Again, there were other things that bothered me but those were the main ones.

All-in-all, a decent thriller that taught me a lot about NGO operations and Middle Eastern relationships. ( )
  gmmartz | Aug 10, 2018 |
Rating: 3* of five

The Book Description: The Amateur Spy recasts the spy novel for the post-9/11 world—anyone might be watching, everyone is suspect.

Freeman Lockhart, a humanitarian aid worker, and his Bosnian wife, have just retired to a charming house on a Greek island. On their first night, violent intruders blackmail Freeman into spying on an old Palestinian friend living in Jordan. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a Palestinian-American named Aliyah Rahim is worried about her husband, who blames their daughter's death on the U.S. anti-terror policies. Aliyah learns that he is plotting a cataclysmic act of revenge; in a desperate effort to stop him, she flies to Jordan to meet her husband's co-conspirators. There she encounters Freeman neck-deep in his own investigation. As their paths intertwine, the story rises to its fast-paced, explosive climax.


My Review: My bestie Suzanne inspired me to read this book, and I liked it. I did. I liked it.

Excellent pacing! Exciting plotting! Adequate dialogue!

But, after a few nights away from it pondering why I am so unmoved by it, I realized something. I am unpleasantly aware of a resonance with the later real-life doings of Zeitoun, he of the non-fiction Eggers book about injustice, racial profiling, and Katrina's aftermath.

I wasn't unmoved after all. I was unhappy.

The Palestinian dad who loses his daughter to perceived bureaucratic idiocy also loses his loyalty to the American Dream and to the Ideal World he came here to find. Well, yeah. Push a man hard enough, he falls over. Losing your illusions is a painful process, and for an adult to go through it...! I've heard a lot of unpleasantness about Zeitoun's apparent descent into extremism. It all carries, as does Fesperman's doctor's descent, an unspoken whiff of “look, he's finally tipped into Islamic Fundamentalism just like They Always Do!”

I don't think They Always Do anything. I don't like the insidious, unexamined response of “well, what did you expect?” to these men's extreme responses to extreme abuses and losses. I promise you that a father who loses a child is a deranged, angry, haunted man. He will never, ever be the same as he was again. And if there is a handy, culpable party around, well guess what? Blame will be laid. I think I would feel the same way if my country, the place I CHOSE to live and work and become part of, slammed me into prison for being me.

It's certainly always true that thrillers and mysteries require an Other, an Enemy, or they're pointless. I know that espionage is about Otherness taken to the extreme. I'm aware that the entire experience of a chase is about stakes, what's at risk, why the chase is occurring, or there's no point.

That said, I can take not one thing away from Mr. Fesperman in his making of the book, and in his choice of a story. That I don't want to read this story isn't a thing in the world to do with him, and that I DID read the story is a testament to his talent as a thriller-maker. ( )
1 vote richardderus | Nov 14, 2012 |
Freeman Lockhart is an American recently retired from a career as an UN aid worker. He and his wife, Mila - a Bosnian woman he met in Sarajevo during the war there - are spending the first night in their new home on a secluded Greek island when they are awakened by 3 intruders. These men, identified only as "Black", "White", and "Gray" are intelligence agents who want Freeman to spy on an old colleague in Amman, Jordan, who runs an NGO that provides healthcare to Palestinean refugees. As incentive, they threaten to disclose the truth about an episode in Freeman's past during a posting in Tanzania - something not even his wife knows about. Believing the men to be CIA and having the capablility to complicate his and Mila's lives, Freeman agrees to go along with their request. Meanwhile, in Washington DC, Allia - an Arab woman who was born in Palestine and moved to America at age 5 - is worried about her husband, Ammas, who came from Palestine at age 13. We soon learn that both are struggling to deal with the death of their daughter, and with the increased and unfair scrutiny that Arab-Americans have been subjected to since 9-11.

I thought the book started out slow, but I enjoyed it more and more as it went along. Even though the main focus of the story is on Freeman, I felt that Allia's story rang truer. Freeman's discraceful secret, when finally revealed, left me with a "that's it?" reaction. Also, his thoughts and fears and actions related to the espionage he has been forced to conduct seemed repetitive and overdone. Once I accepted the need to just go along with him, Freeman's adventures became more interesting and that is when the book started getting better. The situation described in the book is all too believable, unfortunately, as Freeman races to dicover the truth about his friend and about the men who have hired him. A very good thriller. ( )
  sjmccreary | Oct 10, 2009 |
An exhausted, disillusioned aid worker is ready to retreat to an island in Greece with his wife, but some shadowy government types have other plans for him. He's blackmailed into becoming a spy, without really knowing how to do it or what exactly he's after. The strengths of this book include some memorable characters and a vivid sense of Jordan. Not so strong - the narrator (whose first person story alternates with third person scenes focused on a Muslim woman in Washington who is trying to figure out what her angry husband is up to) is sometimes annoying company; the motivations of the two major characters don't always feel quite strong enough for what they end up doing; and a certain imbalance between the thriller aspects of the plot and the much more down-to-earth and interesting treatment of Jordan and its Palestinian population. Fesperman is a fine writer, and this book is worth reading, even if (in my opinion) it's not his best.
  bfister | Nov 23, 2008 |
accurate sense of place ( )
  fordbarbara | Oct 27, 2008 |
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Former aid worker Freeman Lockhart is blackmailed into spying on his former Jordanian friend and co-worker Omar al-Baroody in order to prevent an act of terrorism against Washington's highest power brokers.

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