|The Silent Man
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From the #1 New York Times - bestselling author comes another remarkable novel of espionage today - and right around the corner.Alex Berenson's The Faithful Spy was declared "one of the best spy stories ever told" (The Wall Street Journal), and The Ghost War "mesmerizing . . . an extraordinary achievement. Wells is a complex blend of smarts, scars, cynicism and wile. And the book's imaginings seem not so much 'ripped from the headlines' as eerily destined to be set in type for tomorrow's" (The News & Observer). Berenson's third novel, however, is his most masterful yet.It isn't easy to steal warheads from the heart of Russia's nuclear complex in Mayak. It requires a great deal of money, coordination, ingenuity, and sleight-of-hand, and just a touch of luck. But if you're determined enough, anything is possible.It's been a rough few years for CIA agent John Wells. The undercover work in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the attack on the United States, the Chinese plot that could have led to war. Wells is exhausted, and his nights filled with disturbing dreams. But he knows he has no time for that. He has made many enemies, and the world won't stay quiet for long. Nevertheless, Wells is not prepared for what is about to happen. He and his colleague-and fianc?e-Jennifer Exley are driving into work when traffic comes to a standstill, due to accidents on both bridges into Washington. A pretty big coincidence, he thinks, beginning to get a bad feeling - a feeling that only gets worse when he spots the red motorcycle zooming up between cars toward him. Before the day is over, several people will be dead or severely injured, Exley among them, and Wells will be a man possessed.The attackers are Russian, and it is to Russia that Wells must follow the trail. He finds what he's looking for - but also a great deal more. A plan of almost unimaginable consequences is in motion, and Wells has no idea if he has discovered it in time. The last few years have been rough indeed, but the next few weeks will be much, much worse. Real-world threats, authentic details, a scenario as dramatic as it is chillingly plausible, Alex Berenson's new novel is another "timely reminder of the extremely precarious way we live now" (The Washington Post).
I've read all of Berenson's books. I enjoyed the first one, thought the second one was OK, and struggled with this one, The Silent Man. Without getting into too much detail, let's just say that one of the keys to a good techno-thriller is plausibility. That is, the events can't happen by magic -- the sequence of plot elements should be related by some form of logic. And in this book Berenson writes himself into corners, and then invents implausible characters or impossible luck to compensate for these dilemmas. And there should be a least a reasonable attempt to help the reader believe in the technical details that are important to the story. The last straw for me was the notion that a carefully planned attempt to build an atomic bomb would involve characters handling uranium and plutonium with their bare hands, for an extended period, without becoming ill....more info
- Berenson is Batting 3 For 3!
With his third book in his series featuring John Wells, Berenson reinforces his deserved position of being one of today's elite spy thriller writers. In The Silent Man, master CIA agent Wells is exhausted from his undercover work in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the attack on the US, and the Chinese plot that could have led to war. However, Wells knows he has no time to rest, as he once again has become involved in saving the country from an attack being planned of almost unimaginable consequences. In typical Berenson fashion, The Silent Man is well-written, exciting and very true-to-life. Further, his primary and secondary characters are highly believable and interesting. You really get a sense of being right there with the characters as the action is unfolding. The one criticism I had with The Silent Man (resulting in my giving the book a 4-star vs. a 5-star rating) is that it spent too much time in describing the many details involved in creating a nuclear device. While Berenson clearly did his homework in this area, it, for me, served to slow down the intensity of the plot. Despite this factor, The Silent Man is definitely worth reading and a "must read" for those who have read and enjoyed Berenson's first two books, The Faithful Spy (my personal favorite) and The Ghost War. It will keep you engrossed from beginning to end. For potential new readers to this series, I'd recommend that you hold up on reading The Silent Man until after reading the two other books in sequence....more info
- Nuclear attacks on the United States
Nuclear terrorism is a nightmare we have never faced in the United States, nor recently has any other nation in the world to our knowledge. It is something we never want to think about since many of us throughout the world know of the devastation that nuclear weapons wrought on Japan that helped end World War Two and caused so much human suffering and ultimate physical destruction. "The Silent Man" gives the reader an idea of how such a devastating act would bring our world to it knees. Alex Berenson's CIA undercover operative John Wells has been through so much dangerous cloak and dagger work throughout the world that his fianc¨¦ is never sure if he will be there for her or lie dead from some unknown killer or simply disappear. Jennifer Exley and John Wells had finally moved into a house of their own but their work as agents made their life very dangerous and also made extra security a way of life. Exley never knew if Wells would be coming back from a mission or not.
The president's State of the Union speech was coming up shortly and a few eastern groups wanted to cause ruin to the United States during that speech if at all possible. They secretly met in small groups and made their plans to set off a nuclear device wreaking havoc in Washington if possible during the speech or another large city if Washington didn't work out. They had to find a way to get the device first. Several workers at a well-guarded nuclear storage facility in Russia worked on getting two of the devices out of the plant and into the United States by any means possible. The plans were laid, the process started, the shipment got on its way, and some of the involved men were "done away with" so their information would not be shared. The shipment had to work perfectly with precise timing. Amidst accidents of various types, the device partially got to Canada and into the United States to a rural farm in Pennsylvania where the scientist could work on the device and makes it ready for destruction. The many spies involved made the secrecy hard to maintain.
Jennifer Exley had been involved in a deadly accident caused by some terrorists in the United States before the shipment of the nuclear devices began. Wells had to leave on his mission before he knew if his fianc¨¦ would live or die. She was in very critical condition. He was sent on the mission to find those trying to terrorize our nation as well as finding the nation or nations that were involved in this possible disaster.
A fantastic story that could occur on our earth any day by those that would stand against a nation or a cause. The results would not be pretty. None of us wants to picture the results of a nuclear blast anywhere in our world. The Silent Man is very hard to put down. The story is involved but not to the point of the reader not understanding what is going on and what and who are involved.
- Another solid entry
Another solid entry in this modern-day spy thriller series. John Wells is settling into domestic bliss with Jennifer Exley, his co-worker and fellow spy. But their life is about to be shattered when one of the baddies that John previously wronged seeks revenge in a planned assassination as Wells and Exley make their way to work. They are well-guarded, but though the attack is partially blocked, Exley is severely injured.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, two nuclear bombs have gone missing from a Russian bomb storage facility, having been stolen by a small group of Muslim terrorists. As those people work to get the bombs over the sea to American soil where they will build their own nuclear device, the CIA learns of the missing bombs and must play games behind the scenes to find out what they can because the Russians are not very forthcoming. John Wells has a role in that too--in fact, the two cases eventually intersect.
I enjoy this series quite a lot. I really loved the first book where John was more or less on his own--it was a more unique story and he had to rely on his own resourcefulness and wit. The subsequent books, including this one, with all the machinations of the FBI, CIA and the other "initial" agencies and their posturing and game-playing have been slightly less appealing to me. Anyone can accomplish things if you have the CIA providing you with false documentation and 'friends' to talk to to get you what you need or to introduce you to the people you need involved. It's just not as exciting to me as the 'lone wolf.' But still a good read, well-written and as it's addressing concerns of the present day, enough to scare the bejeezus out of you if you let it....more info
- Highly Entertaining
Alex Berenson's "The Silent Man" is a fast-paced and plausible novel in the counter-terrorism vein. There are apparently two prior novels involving the same characters, which I have not read. Yet Berenson gives you enough character insight to satisfactorily plunge in with this book.
John Wells, the protagonist, at least in this book has a tendency to be a "loose cannon", but after being the target of an unsuccessful assasination plot, creates an ill-conceived ad hoc scheme to get his personal revenge for the person who almost kills his girlfriend in the attempt. While he quickly identifies the ultimate origin of the plot, his scheme falls totally apart, and he is barely able to get out of Russia. His superiors at the CIA are very unhappy with him, but he coincidently gets assigned to the investigation of vague reports of missing Russian nuclear materials.
Berrenson's terrorists are well-rounded, and diverse enough in their motives and back stories so they are not all insane cardboard-cutout villains. They have jobs, and families and are involved in smuggling a nuclear weapon into the United States for a variety of reasons. There are subtleties and ambivalencies abounding in this novel, which also makes the book more satisfactory than most of the genre. There is a wealthy, arms dealer super villain, but Wells must make a difficult decision whether to seek revenge from him for a very personal attack OR to reach a truce with him in return for information which provides a critical link to the terrorists.
Having an American agent who is also a Muslim at the heart of the story is also an interesting twist. Action and technical details in the novel are all quite believable, and the complex characters keep you turning pages late into the night....more info
- saving the world
Saving the world is hard. Doing it convincingly book after book must be a huge challenge. This is the third John Wells thriller, and Berenson manages to give us a more convincing hero than in the second installment.
The first in the series, The Faithful Spy, was amazing. The second book was a second book. Here Berenson allows Wells to develop believably, still at odds with his American culture, although with nothing said about his faith. (Wells converted to Islam while spending years under cover in Afghanistan. In the second book, he moves into more secular mind-set, and here all we hear about is not eating pork - superficial stuff.)
John Wells has a bad case of the super-hero-blues: he feels that he and only he can save the world.
I wish he enjoyed it more. While not as dark as parts of the second book, there's a lot of navel-staring angst here. But the quality of the writing carries the reader through the self-indulgent parts. At times the prose is positively lyrical - especially in the passages on the intersections between cultural agendas and place -- in Cairo, in Hamburg, and where Wells thinks about America as he re-enters the country.
Berenson does shifting point of view very well. We move from Wells' head to the heads of various plotting men -- plotting willingly and under duress - to the minds of desk-spies. (Berenson has a great talent for depicting the bad guys. They are understandable and even sympathetic without tempting the reader over to their side.) There is a bad moment when the omniscient third shifts from one plotter to another - I spent several chapters being confused in Elmira - but even that resolves.) The mind we don't get inside is Exley's. When I reviewed the second book, I wished that we might hear more from her -- Wells' lover and CIA comrade -- and I'm sad to see that we hear considerably less. She's barely on stage.
But that's a matter of personal taste. The novel does a good job of showing the American intelligence services as deeply flawed but basically a force for good. That's a nice relief for US readers who have been battered recently by the latest John Le Carre and the 6th season of Spooks (MI5 over here.) I like the illusion that we live in a benign universe.
I'm giving this 5 with the understanding that The Faithful Spy would get 6 stars....more info
- Riveting Spy Thriller
Alex Berenson sets his spy thriller, The Silent Man, in present times with a chilling problem, missing nuclear material. The author weaves a tale of fanatics, a lying government, and the challenge of finding something with few clues. The chase is on and will keep you from putting this riveting book down. ...more info
- Another great book in the series.
This is the third book by Alex Berenson in the John Wells "series". The main character continues to grow and change subtly which is interesting and realistic. The main difference I found between this and other books with the same storyline is the detail. Stealing nukes from Russia has been done, but Mr. Berenson gives us terrific detail in how it was done, how the bombs work, how a terrorist group can get around not having "the codes" and so forth. I found this very interesting as I did the way the bombs could be smuggled into this country (this was also somewhat depressing as it is way too easy).
The plot moves along and while detailed does not get bogged down in detail. I also liked the very subtle clue to the ending which will take a very observant reader but makes the ending, quick to be sure, but again realistic.
Only two minor complaints. First, John and his significant other, Exley, should make up their minds about staying in The Agency or leaving. I'm probably too sensitive to this since another author of similar type (David Hagberg) has had his main character think about leaving the CIA for what seems like 32 novels, (make up your mind Kirk and Mrs. Kirk). Second the ending was not an ending but a beginning to his next book, but so many are now.
Really a great book and am looking forward to his next.
- Better than Vince Flynn
I would rate this book to be better than the latest Vince Flynn book, although I honestly like the works of both authors immensely.
It is based on a quite likely scenario involving homemade nukes composed of stolen Russian uranium bomb material, smuggled into the US through Canada, and intended for use in DC. You might argue that this case has been studied and written about a bit too much, but nonetheless it still remains incredibly viable.
The descriptions of the nuclear bomb physics and engineering of the device in an upstate NY farm seem incredibly realistic in today's world. I have no doubts that Islamic terrorists are planning and plotting just such an event, hopefully never to be executed.
My only question, at the risk of going off on a tangent but not meant to diminish the story, involves one of authority and charter i.e. would the CIA be involved in tracking the terrorists down within the USA, or perhaps more realistically would the typical US hodgepodge of alphabet soup agencies, DHS, FBI, etc. be involved?
When I get a book that I absolutely cannot put down until I have read it cover to cover, leaving me yearning for more pages, and it makes me a bit sad at having no more to look forward to, it is in my mind, a hit, no really a loaded bases home run over the center field fence at Yankee Stadium!
For me only a few authors have the ability to write books such as these and I eagerly await the next book releases.
Great job - keep up the excellent work!...more info
- In the Dust
Many 80s rock bands can tell you the curse of being a one-hit wonder. The pressure to hit that mark again is tough, and there are casualties along that road.
Alex Berenson became the talk of the book world when his novel "The Faithful Spy" won the Edgar, hit the NY Times list, and received unanimous praise from critics and readers alike. I, too, loved the story of tough, faithful--and now silent--John Wells. "The Ghost War" carried the Wells story in new directions, with the Chinese entering the picture, and Wells' friend Exley playing a larger role. While enjoyable and well-written, the story felt less cohesive for me. I held out hope that Berenson would come through on the third book and leave those 80's big-hair bands and one-hit wonders in the dust.
"The Silent Man" starts with a fireball in Russian wastelands and churns toward the threat of a much greater nuclear explosion in the heart of America's power structure. Berenson weaves together the stories of listless Russians, soul-searching jihadists, nutrition-conscious arms dealers, and our silent, faithful John Wells. Wells is more committed than ever to taking down the enemies of the U.S., but is he willing to lose those he loves while doing so? It's a question he's dealt with before, and this intricate, yet fast-paced story brings him to that point again in a poignant final scene.
The idea of a nuclear weapon on American soil has been explored before. "Fail-Safe" was a Cold War classic. "The Fifth Horseman" is still one of my all-time favorite thrillers. And Daniel Silva's current series has dealt with the same threat. "The Silent Man" takes its worthy place among the top-tier thrillers of our day, telling a cautionary and well-researched tale that never forgets to connect us with very human characters on both sides of the ideological struggles.
One-hit wonder? No, Berenson has moved far beyond that. His fourth should be one of my most anticipated thrillers of next year....more info
- Big Blast
John Wells, in preceding novels, has managed to save the world from a Sino-American war, spent 10 years in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban, and now is asked to rescue the United States from a nuclear explosion. How much can be asked of one guy? This tight, intricate plot begins with the theft of two atomic bombs from a Russian facility as part of an Islamic terrorist plot.
The story traces the journey of the two devices and the various people involved in using the uranium in them to create one bomb intended to be exploded in Washington, D.C., during the State of the Union address, or alternatively in Manhattan or some other target. It is up to John Wells (not to mention the rest of the CIA, FBI, Homeland Security and other domestic and foreign agencies) to find the plotters and the bombs.
About the only criticism about the plot is the relative ease with which two atomic bombs are removed from the Russian depot. It's hard to believe security is so lax. But it's necessary for the story, and can be overlooked. The story is dramatic, and holds the reader's interest throughout, and is recommended.
- Superb Novel
I didn't realize until I got this book that it was the third by Alex Berenson.
After reading this one, I immediately ordered the other two.
His work is excellent, just what I like in a thriller. Good character development and no dragging plot lines.
Although the same character stars in all three books, the plots are significantly different in all of them, which keeps them from getting dull the way some character series' can be.
Also, it doesn't really matter which order the books are read in, another plus. I read #3, then 1 and 2 with no problem. The books all stand alone just fine.
Can't wait for his next novel!...more info
- A Great Read
I savored this book, enjoying a few dozen pages each evening. And as the next evening approached, I looked forward to reading more of the story.
Before coming across this solid work of fiction, I'd never heard of Alex Berenson. He's a reporter for the New York Times, a publication that strikes me as more concerned with distorting the news than reporting the news. I would not accuse them of having a high regard for editorial integrity. Despite coming from that background, Berenson wrote a book that has strong cultural and political themes and yet didn't proselytize. In addition, he wrote a darn good book.
Much of what gets into the thriller genre isn't thrilling, but this is. In typical "thrillers," cardboard characters save the world from cardboard villains and get the girl in the end. In this novel, the characters are complex and the villains are real people with real motivations. As a reader, you feel like you understand what drives them but you can't quite predict what they are going to do. And the hero in this book didn't get the girl in the end.
This book is significant. How so? In several ways, actually. Before I explain why, let me provide a synopsis of the story.
The story begins with the theft of two warheads from the Russia's nuclear complex in Mayak. The way this gets pulled off makes for a great story within a story. Once these are stolen, the stage is set for our hero (CIA agent John Wells) to make his entry. His entry also makes for a great story within a story.
Wells has made several enemies, and one of them put a hit out on Wells. He is traveling by car with his fianc¨¦e (Jennifer Exley), when the hit goes down. The attackers are pros, but so is Wells. In the ensuing battle, Exley is severely injured. At the hospital, Exley's children and ex-husband arrive. Some tension and drama there.
We that find Wells has inner conflicts and that demons haunt him. He needs to let go, but he can't. He has a compulsive need to be where the action is. Exley is similarly conflicted, but the need to be with her children is drawing her toward a more peaceful existence. Wells' need to be with Exley similarly draws him that direction. But he's also strongly pulled in the opposite direction and therein lies one of the main threads in the story.
The man who contracted the hit realizes he made a big mistake. He realizes it even more, after the body count rises. He knows it's only a matter of time, and not much of it, before Wells takes him out. He needs to offer Wells something in way of a truce. Because he's an arms dealer, he has information about people seeking to buy beryllium (#4 on the Periodic Table). The purpose in obtaining this metal can only be to build an atomic bomb. With reports of "missing nuclear material," the arms dealer thinks he can buy a truce with Wells by giving him this information. So he does, and they treat.
It turns out someone really is building a bomb, and it looks like the target city is in the USA. Wells and his allies have to track these people down. One way we know for sure they are making a bomb is Berenson spends most of the novel with the people building it. It's almost, but not quite, a though the bomb-builders are the heroes of the story and Wells is the intruder. Berenson inverts the normal ratio of villain-time to hero-time. This inversion works, because the villains are far from cardboard characters that exist merely to advance the plot or give the hero something to do.
Berenson presumes readers already are familiar with Wells, and alludes frequently to things readers of the first two novels would know. I found this a bit off-putting, though for the most part Berenson handled it smoothly.
As I said, this book is significant. It's significant because it's over 400 pages long (in hardback format). Compare that to a typical novel that runs a couple hundred pages in a smaller format. The book is heavy, but the reading doesn't weigh you down. With its crisp dialogue and good character conflict, it seems to move fast.
It's significant because the story is a story for our times, yet it involves a struggle that has lasted over 1500 years.
It's significant because we don't need to "suspend belief" for this story to grip us from the outset. Everything seems plausible. And while reading, you can't help but think, "Hey, that could really happen."
It's significant because it's the third novel in a series by an emerging author. The third in a series is often a turning point in a writing career. This could be Berenson's last good novel. Or, it could be the threshold over which this author steps into a career that will be followed by an ever-growing number of fans. I think it's the latter.
Typically in thrillers, the characters serve the plot. An author may come up with a plausible "save the world" plot we haven't seen before. The author might even do it twice. Plot-driven authors pump out the same basic stories and if you've read one or two you have probably read all of that author's stories. Names and places change, but each book is basically a retread. To make up for this, the author may resort to more ridiculous "bigger badder" elements with each new release.
The same thing happens in movie sequels, and it usually flops. You can look at, for example, The Matrix sequels for an example of how the "bigger badder each time" thing just doesn't work. You need more.
If the stories are character-driven, the story tension and level of interest can arise from an almost infinite set of variables. An author whose stories are character-driven can write a large number of unique stories. Such an author has staying power in the book market because the story doesn't depend on coming up with some idiotic twist to the same tired plot. Nor do we get the lipstick on the pig effect so common in sequels.
For these reasons, I feel Berenson will be around a while. We'll be buying his books because his characters compel us to keep reading what he writes. Even the minor characters seem real.
Something else struck me about this book after I finished it. It's in English. A rarity.
We readers are frequently assaulted by language abuse on the part of authors. Many seem completely ignorant of standard written English. I hate having to second guess meanings in something that was presumably written for entertainment. The mental gymnastics just aren't appealing.
Pick up any work by John Grisham, and the labor of trying to guess his meaning while wading through the Pidgin English is tiresome. Unfortunately, his books appealed to a market segment that made him a financial success. He helped make Pidgin English acceptable to publishers. Today, you take a risk when buying a book that it's not only going to be a dud but it's going to be a barely comprehensible dud.
Berenson, on the other hand, respects the reader enough to write in straightforward English. I find that to be significant. It's not why I enjoyed the book. Writing correctly is a minimum standard. Berenson's adroit storytelling on top of that is why I enjoyed the book. Having read this novel, I now want to read the two that came before it....more info
While there is a certain amount of drama and perhaps accuracy in the physics, the plot seems targeted at teenagers. Somehow I don't see nuclear terrorists engaged in deep soul-searching before killing as many people as possible- this seems like we are using our world view to try to understand a dangerous adversary- and perhaps that is even more dangerous....more info
- A Riveting Thriller 4 1/2 Stars
CIA agent John Wells is devastated by an attack in Washington that severely injures his fianc¨¦e, an event that takes him to Russia, where he uncovers a devastating plot.
In Alex Berenson's third John Wells novel, he creates a credible depth to the world of terrorism. The gripping story will more than satisfy most thriller fans. I liked it as well as his previous novels and basically rushed to the satisfying conclusion. I'm very much looking forward the the next installment.....more info
- Alex Berenson--The Silent Man
I will buy any book by Mr. Anderson even without knowing the content! I have never been disappointed and this book was no exception. ...more info
- Well-paced, solid plotting; the series of which this is a part is adding up well
This is the lastest of a series with continued subplots and subthemes running through them and adding up to a solid series. The original twist is that the all-American patriot hero spent years undercover as a fighter for the Taliban and converted to Islam. He brings -- as do the books -- a rounded perspective on both the good and bad of our guys and their guys. In each book, the plot is basically simple -- a terrorist attack -- and the story is the march towards its prevention. Within that structure, there are enought twists and characters to provide a satisfying and often very vivid pace and narrative force. The personal side of the damaged and still recovering hero and his beloved, who is also a heavy in the counter --terrorism business -- is convincing and complex.
All in all, this adds up to a book well worth reading and one that will pull you into the other books in the series. The only limitation is that there is a lack of resonance in the portrayals; the characters are far more than stock figures and the dialog and interactions are well-handled, but their interior monologs and self-analysis don't (in me at last) build a sense of empathy, passion or pity. The book is workmanlike, in the positive sense of the term, and definitely in the four-star category; it's near the five-star range and I certainly will buy the author's continuations of his storyline and characters' fate....more info