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Monday, September 9, 2013

Reading List: The Apostle

Thor, Brad. The Apostle. New York: Pocket Books, 2009. ISBN 978-1-4165-8658-6.
This is the eighth in the author's Scot Harvath series, which began with The Lions of Lucerne (October 2010). In this novel covert operative Harvath has retired from government service and is enjoying an extended vacation in the Maine woods when he is summoned for an urgent meeting with recently-elected president Robert Alden. Alden informs Harvath that Julia Gallo, the daughter of fund-raiser and media baron Stephanie Gallo, to whom Alden owes a great deal of his recent electoral triumph, has been taken hostage in Afghanistan.

The Taliban have confirmed the hostage-taking and offered to exchange the younger Gallo for an al-Qaeda operative held in an Afghan prison. The Afghan government views putting this malefactor on trial as key to its legitimacy and will not countenance giving him up. Alden asks Harvath to go to Afghanistan, spring the terrorist from prison, and make the exchange, all beneath the radar to avoid damaging Alden's posture of being “tough on terror”. Harvath wonders why Alden is willing to undertake such risk for one hostage while so many others have fallen unremarked in Afghanistan, but accepts the mission.

Meanwhile, a junior Secret Service agent on the president's protection detail overhears a conversation between Stephanie Gallo and the president which indicates her power over him may be based in a dark secret which, if exposed, might end his presidency.

Most of the story is set in Afghanistan and the author has drawn upon his sources to craft a believable picture of that chaotic place. Perhaps acknowledging the shrinking presence of the U.S. on the world stage in the epoch in which the book was written, when Harvath calls in the cavalry, it might not be who you expect. The intrigue in Washington plays out in parallel.

This is a satisfying thriller which, unlike some of the earlier books in the series, works perfectly well if it's the first one you read. If you start here you'll miss details such as how Harvath met his girlfriend or came by his dog, but that's about it, and they play no part in the plot. There is the usual name-dropping of tactical gear which I used to find annoying but have now come to find somewhat charming and fun to look up whilst reading the novel.

Posted at September 9, 2013 21:48