Cover image of "Tribe," a story of international intrigue

In this promising story of international intrigue, Harry Brennan is a veteran CIA field agent, equally skilled in recruiting informants and in front-line combat. But he has little respect for his superiors in the agency and poor insight into the finer points of the high-stakes office politics that threatens to sideline him. Following a botched mission to Afghanistan, he comes to believe that someone in the agency tried to have him killed in the field to conceal a plot to shift U.S. foreign policy to the benefit of Big Oil. The stakes in this latter-day version of the Great Game couldn’t be higher: $25 trillion in oil reserves, a brokered peace between the Taliban and the Afghan government, and the election of a President — not to mention Harry’s life and the life of his college-age daughter.

Tribe might have been an outstanding book. The backdrop shifts from Afghanistan, where espionage, major power rivalries, and the outsized ambitions of commerce so often converge, to the Georgetown cocktail circuit, the White House, and the CIA. Harry Brennan is a satisfyingly complex figure. Descriptions of life and work in the CIA, the White House, and on the front line in Afghanistan ring with credibility. The story itself is powerful and almost plausible. And James Bruno’s writing style is evocative.

Tribe by James Bruno ★★★☆☆

Unfortunately, Bruno hasn’t produced the book that could have been crafted by a more experienced writer steeped in the principles of narrative technique. Time contracts and expands with no apparent logic: a span of minutes may occupy pages, while the passage of weeks or months is dispensed with in a phrase. Scenes shift without warning, in the absence of even the most rudimentary transitions.

James Bruno is a former diplomat, military intelligence analyst, and journalist who clearly possesses a wide range of knowledge about the themes touched on in Tribe. However, this is his third novel. Here’s hoping he’ll study narrative techniques before he writes the fourth.

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