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David Ignatius: Agents of Innocence

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[The following review originally appeared on GlennFrazier.com.]

In another time, David Ignatius‘s Agents of Innocence would be great escapist literature. In today’s world, however, it is a gripping—and all-too haunting—tale of extreme relevance.

Most of my reading since the September Atrocity has been non-fiction. Whether related to my (now former) industry, academic studies, religious texts, or explanations of terror-war-related subjects, most of what I’ve been stuffing in my head has come in the form of cold information. For pure artistic retreat from events of the day, I’ve spent some time with old favorites like Patrick O’Brian and J. R. R. Tolkien. Standing alone in all this, though, is the 1987 spy novel, Agents of Innocence, by David Ignatius.

The tale is set primarily in the labyrinthine world of Lebanon in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and follows the career of the fictional CIA case officer, Tom Rogers. When Rogers arrives in Beirut, it is September 1969, the eve of the tragic implosion of cosmopolitan Lebanon. By the conclusion of the story, terrorists have brought the nation to its knees. Throughout it all, Rogers desperately tries to keep from being overcome by events as he develops “assets”—and relationships—in an attempt to keep tabs on the growing threat of militant radicalism. If you know your history, then I don’t have to tell you that this is a tragic tale.

The author draws heavily from his experience covering the growth of terrorism in Lebanon for the Washington Post. To an extent, the book is a fictionalization of the life of real-world CIA man, Robert Ames. Purportedly, this novel is on the reading list at “The Farm” (the CIA’s training ground at Camp Peary near Williamsburg, VA), and CIA Director George Tenet himself recommended this book in an interview on NPR several years ago. On top of that, it also does an admirable job of making sense (as far as possible) of the wild and varied religious, cultural and political forces operating in the region today.

That being said, this is fiction, not journalism; while the history it covers is essentially true, it would be a good idea to do some non-fiction reading as well if you want to more fully understand the Middle East picture. Still, the glimpse it gives of life in the field is fascinating, and as entertainment it is an excellent read. The prose is straightforward, the plot is gripping, and the characters are believable and engaging.

In summary, I give this book four out of five stars. It is not wonderful literature, nor is it deeply researched history, but it doesn’t attempt to be. It is immensely entertaining and at the same time lightly informative. So far, it is the only novel on my Warblogger’s Bookshelf. James Bond fans should look elsewhere, mind you, but if you love Le Carre, you’ll love this.

You can buy Agents of Innocence at Amazon today.

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