Contemporary novels about espionage tend to focus on the rise of China, North Korea, Iran, or Middle Eastern terrorism. The Ghost War, a superb spy novel that is the second of Alex Berenson’s six espionage thrillers, brings all four of those themes to the fore in a heart-pounding story that thrusts the CIA ‘s preeminent soldier-spy, John Wells, into circumstances that threaten not just his life but also the beginning of war between China and the U.S.
The Ghost War opens on the coast of North Korea, where the CIA fumbles the extraction of their most valuable informer within the country. Soon afterwards, Wells is dispatched on a seemingly unrelated mission to Afghanistan, while his lover, Jennifer Exley, pursues the search for a mole within the CIA. As the story unfolds, these three threads — and more — become intricately intertwined, and the suspense builds toward a powerful climax in the vicinity of where the novel opened.
The Ghost War can be read alone but is likely to be more enjoyable if taken up after reading The Faithful Spy, the first of his novels about John Wells. In The Ghost War, Berenson picks up Wells’ career after the heroic role he played in the earlier novel, for which he has gained considerable fame.
The Ghost War (John Wells #2) by Alex Berenson (2008) 412 pages ★★★★★
With The Faithful Spy, published in 2006, Alex Berenson won the #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list as well as an Edgar Award for best first novel. However, he left his job as an investigative reporter for the Times only in 2010, after more than a decade there. Berenson’s reporting skills, honed in reporting from Baghdad and probing the Bernie Madoff scandal, serve him well in his new profession. They’re reflected in the depth and technical detail of the story and the realistic scenarios he paints. He also writes well, and he has mastered the twin skills of plotting and characterization. The Ghost War is, simply, outstanding.
For additional reading
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 15 best espionage novels
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- The best spy novelists writing today
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