To uncover the identity of a mole in the CIA, John Wells must go undercover again. A long time earlier, he had spent years with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. At the time, he was the CIA’s only source of first-hand information from the scene. This time, the plan is for him to revert to his terrorist identity, contrive to be captured by American forces in Afghanistan, and then rendered by the CIA to a black prison site in Bulgaria. There, his assignment is to befriend a fellow prisoner, a senior officer in ISIS. The agency believes that this man can identify the mole.
The Prisoner (John Wells #11) by Alex Berenson (2017) 430 pages
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Meanwhile, a potentially catastrophic terrorist operation is being planned in Syria. ISIS is attempting to produce a large quantity of the nerve agent sarin. We can be sure that this plot will intersect with the story of the CIA mole—and that John Wells will become involved in thwarting it.
Wells is uniquely well suited for this assignment. He is fluent in Arabic and the southern Afghanistan dialect of Pashto. He is a Muslim, having converted from Christianity while embedded in Al Qaeda. A former Special Forces soldier and CIA officer, Wells is as tough as they come, even now that he is past 40 years of age. And his handler, Ellis Shafer, is brilliant—and he has the President of the United States on the latter-day equivalent of speed-dial.
Despite his unwavering commitment to protect his native country, Wells is reluctant to confront ISIS. He is long retired from the CIA. He has a two-year-old daughter, who is living with his ex-girlfriend. She has refused to let him move in with them, but he has rented a small home near hers in the hills of New Hampshire. Wells wants nothing more than to bury himself in the northern woods and the love of his family. Still, when he learns of the mole from an old friend in the Bulgarian intelligence service, he feels he has no choice but to help.
Working with Shafer and directly with the President, former CIA Director Vinny Duto, Wells sets out for Afghanistan and another perilous and punishing job for the agency. This is the set-up in The Prisoner, the 11th thriller in Alex Berenson’s extraordinary series of spy novels.
The John Wells novels invariably build suspense to the very end, with surprises around every corner. However, what sets them so far apart from other spy stories is the intimate knowledge Berenson has gained about his subject matter. He covered the occupation of Iraq for the New York Times in 2003-4, and his research skills are obviously considerable. The Prisoner is an excellent example of fiction grounded in fact.
For further reading
For reviews of other books on this topic, read 13 eye-opening books about terrorism.
For links to my reviews of all the John Wells novels, see The 12 novels of Alex Berenson’s thrilling John Wells spy series.
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