The biggest difference between a superior thriller and one that’s just so-so lies in the degree to which the setting and circumstances are inherently interesting — and in the research the author has done to bring them to life in a fully credible manner. Though others may best him in other ways, it’s hard to find a thriller writer who is more diligent or more ingenious at research than Alex Berenson, a former New York Times correspondent.
In The Night Ranger, the seventh novel in his John Wells series, Berenson casts a spotlight on one of the greatest tragedies on Earth, the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the recurring drought and unending civil war in Somalia.
The Night Ranger (John Wells #7) by Alex Berenson (2013) 418 pages @@@@@ (5 out of 5)
In most respects, The Night Ranger is a conventional thriller, with the doughty hero taking action against great odds to save humanity from great evil. In this case, he even gets to rescue two beautiful young damsels in distress, all the while his actions prevent another ill-considered invasion of a distant country by the US military. The action is virtually nonstop, and tension builds steadily toward a shattering climax, making the book progressively more difficult to set aside.
Wells, now ex-Army and ex-CIA, rushes to Dadaab, site of an enormous camp for Somali refugees in northeastern Kenya. There, four young American volunteers, working temporarily for a US charity, are kidnapped on their way to a nearby luxury vacation site. Having volunteered to attempt the young people’s rescue without pay, Wells teams up with his former CIA boss, Ellis Shafer, to take advantage of the agency’s electronic surveillance capabilities. As his search begins, Wells quickly learns that the situation is far more complex than he could have imagined.
What sets aside The Night Ranger from other thrillers set in exotic locales is the abundance of credible detail Berenson offers up, from a snapshot of Kenyan bureaucracy and a portrayal of Somali bandit gangs to discussions of weaponry and the tactics of hand-to-hand fighting. Alex Berenson knows stuff that few of the rest of us do.
The Night Ranger is a thoroughly enjoyable bit of escapist literature, with more than a dollop of education about the refugee crisis thrown in for good measure.
For additional reading
For another novel set in the same region, see An Expensive Education by Nick McDonell (Special Forces are up to no good in Somalia).
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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- The 10 top espionage novels reviewed on this site;
- 20 good nonfiction books about espionage; and
- Top 10 mystery and thriller series.
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