Novelist Dies After Publication of Book
By Andrew Britton
Kensington, 2008, $24
The ultimate national nightmare -- up there with 9/11 and hostages in Iran -- is the abduction of a high-ranking American official.
In "The Invisible" the high-ranking official is the secretary of state, the target of a rebel group staffed by former military men and inspired by a shadowy Algerian, whose appearance is patterned after that of Osama bin Laden.
Returning to the clandestine search is CIA operative Ryan Kealey, who is trying unsuccessfully to retire after his last adventures were chronicled by Andrew Britton. But in standard spy novel plotting, Ryan is persuaded to return because top CIA officials are convinced he is the only man who can do the job. His CIA superior, Jonathan Harper, uses Ryan's former lover, Naomi Kharmai, as bait to lure him back into service.
First, they are assigned to investigate the fate of American climbers who mysteriously disappear amid the snow-capped peaks of the Hindu Kush. The disappearance occurs during an especially tense situation involving Pakistani-Indian relations as the United States allows the Indian government to sell military weaponry to Israel.
Next, Secretary of State Brynn Fitzgerald makes a diplomatic excursion to Pakistan. Enroute to the airport at Islamabad her motorcade is ambushed, she is kidnapped, the leader of her security team is killed, and the ambassador is later murdered. The purpose is to humiliate the United States, parade Fitzgerald before television cameras as political pawn and ransom subject.
Benazir Mengal, the retired Pakistani general who engineered the ambush for the Algerian, must first heal Fitzgerald's life-threatening injuries. He taps a disgraced surgeon, then kidnaps an American anesthesiologist working in a Pakistan hospital.
Ryan and Naomi are joined by a Spanish-born agent, bent on revenge against Colombian terrorists who tortured and killed her older sister. Their father is a retired CIA operative now living in Cartagena.
Before the CIA team can uncover needed information from an exiled Pakistani living in Spain, Ryan confronts a closer, more personal crisis. Naomi, still recovering from serious injuries, is now crippled by drugs, and Ryan realizes that she is no longer reliable. Their effort to pull Mengal's identity from the man in Cartagena works, but is costly in loss of innocent lives and in diplomacy between the United States and Spain. Ryan must make a critical decision about allowing Naomi to continue on the case and about use of the Spanish operatives.
The plot shifts from Iceland to Spain, from Washington to Islamabad as Ryan and a back-up team of CIA operatives close in on the place where Fitzgerald is being held.
Typical of the spy thriller, the tension mounts into the final pages. This page-turner is absorbing but does not sugarcoat the work of the CIA and government officials. It offers a heavy serving of cynicism amid a strong atmosphere of patriotism. It leaves the reader hopeful that Condoleeza Rice's entourage has more expert security for her excursions abroad.
"The Invisible" focuses on internal CIA operations and Ryan's troubled relationship with fellow operatives and Washington's political concerns. Motivation of the terrorists is de-emphasized but the mercenary side is clearly at play among the likes of Mengal and his cohorts.
The English-born author moved to the United States when he was seven. After army service, he enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he wrote his first novel, "The American." He followed that success with a second bestseller, "The Assassin."
This is Britton's last book. He was 27 when he died in March of an aneurysm, shortly after "The Invisible" was published. His residence in recent years had been the Triangle.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at email@example.com.
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