The Faithful Spy: A Novel
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“A well-crafted page-turner that addresses the most important issue of our time. It will keep you reading well into the night.”–Vince Flynn

A New York Times reporter has drawn upon his experience covering the occupation in Iraq to write the most gripping and chillingly plausible thriller of the post-9/11 era. Alex Berenson’s debut novel of suspense, The Faithful Spy, is a sharp, explosive story that takes readers inside the war on terror as fiction has never done before.

John Wells is the only American CIA agent ever to penetrate al Qaeda. Since before the attacks in 2001, Wells has been hiding in the mountains of Pakistan, biding his time, building his cover.
Now, on the orders of Omar Khadri–the malicious mastermind plotting more al Qaeda strikes on America–Wells is coming home. Neither Khadri nor Jennifer Exley, Wells’s superior at Langley, knows quite what to expect.

For Wells has changed during his years in the mountains. He has become a Muslim. He finds the United States decadent and shallow. Yet he hates al Qaeda and the way it uses Islam to justify its murderous assaults on innocents. He is a man alone, and the CIA–still reeling from its failure to predict 9/11 or find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq–does not know whether to trust him. Among his handlers at Langley, only Exley believes in him, and even she sometimes wonders. And so the agency freezes Wells out, preferring to rely on high-tech means for gathering intelligence.

But as that strategy fails and Khadri moves closer to unleashing the most devastating terrorist attack in history, Wells and Exley must somehow find a way to stop him, with or without the government’s consent.

From secret American military bases where suspects are held and “interrogated” to basement laboratories where al Qaeda’s scientists grow the deadliest of biological weapons, The Faithful Spy is a riveting and cautionary tale, as affecting in its personal stories as it is sophisticated in its political details. The first spy thriller to grapple squarely with the complexities and terrors of today’s world, this is a uniquely exciting and unnerving novel by an author who truly knows his territory.

From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews:

  • very good!
    here's one i really enjoyed! i liked the plot, the characters, the writing style, everything!
    i'm looking forward to reading more from the writer! keep up the good work, mr. berenson!...more info
  • A fantstic read
    From the great plot twists to the fascinating characters, this book was a great roller coaster ride. The technology, techniques and strategies make the book jump off the page. Alex Berenson is a master of the thriller....more info
  • Excellent thriller with a first rate plot twist
    This is one of the best suspense novels that I've read in a long time. First, it's very intelligent. There are no routine psycho serial killers, no pedestrian plot lines and no hackneyed cliches. This book features a well thought out plot that has a genuine kicker near the end, great characters that the reader actually cares about and atmospheric, literate prose.

    The whole idea of the narrative -- that there is a CIA agent undercover inside Al Qadea -- is deeply interesting and absorbs the reader in the plot from the first page. It's the kind of book that is hard to put down, even though you know that you really should go to bed and be ready for work the next morning.

    The author, Alex Berenson, is a reporter for the New York Times and this is his first work of fiction. I hope he writes many more. ...more info
  • WOW!
    One of the best novels I have read in a long time--and I read two to three each week. Berenson has conceived a timely plot (al-Qaeda), fascinating venues (the Taliban in Afghanistan), and an action-packed writing style. But best of all, and this makes the author very unique among thriller novelists, he takes time to fully develop each character, even minor ones. This, plus believable dialog, makes the story come alive. From the first few pages, I knew these characters, I felt their pain, their sorrow, and their happiness. I cared what happened to them. With the multitude of badly written and poorly edited novels on the market, finding a book like this is a real thrill. It is worth twice the asking price--or more. Berenson certainly deserved the Edgar award. If Amazon had a ten-star category, this book would earn it. My only criticism is that the author could have taken time to develop the ending more fully. I felt that the characters suddenly lost the traits that had been so carefully developed throughout the book. ...more info
  • So Good!!!!!!!!
    I picked this novel up in an airport bookshop recently and boy, am I ever glad that I did. This book was addictive, engrossing, suspenseful in the extreme, very well written with marvellous plot and character development. I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone who loves topical thrillers. Absolutely fantastic, and I look forward to reading more of Mr Berenson's novels. He is a great find!...more info
  • Not Up to The Hoopla
    Berenson's first novel is a page-turner with a contemporary story line: Muslim terrorists attacking America on US soil. The protagonist, CIA agent John Wells, infiltrates Al Qaeda, but couldn't stop 9-11. Now Wells is determined to stop the Next Big Attack.

    He is sent back by the terror organization to America to help launch that attack, but now Wells' problem is nobody in the CIA trusts him anymore, except his boss and lover Jen Exley. The story is exciting and has a couple good twists near the end, but the character development does not match the story and some of the terror plot elements stretch credulity.

    The author is a well-connected NY Times reporter and the book has been heavily hyped - a movie deal was done before the book was published and one review compared Berenson to John LeCarre, a stretch at best. It's a decent summer time read.

    ...more info
  • Exciting New Author
    This novel is well written, believable and fast paced. The hero, John Wells, was born in Montana, a convert to Islam and a CIA operative who over a period of time infiltrated al Qaeda in the mountains of Pakistan/Afghanistan. He was dispatched back to the U.S. to participate in some dramatic terrorist activities. Think dirty nuke/germ warefare. In the meantime, the CIA had not heard from him for so long they were concerned that he had defected. In the authors hands, the plot moves along at a fast pace and seems quite within reason. The author writes for the N.Y. Times, most commonly, I think, regarding medical/drug type issues. I couldn't help but wonder about the horror some of his colleagues at the paper of record probably felt about the succesful use of harsh interrogation techniques used on captured terrorists in the book....more info
  • Some half decent writing pulls this book out of the gutter
    I picked up the Faithful Spy because it was getting such dynamite reviews. Some of what is here in this book merrits such praise. However, the plot and characters bring down the house with their overboard ambitions.

    Its sort of odd that this book which tries so hard to be one of the quiet thrillers that doesn't over-whelm the reader as if it were Die Hard Seven, is in the end overblown. Yet components of this novel just are so far fetched that you start groaning after a while.

    One of my least favorite tricks that authors use is in full glory here. That is skipping from one character to another. Its not done terribly here, however it ends up taking the reader out of the flow very often and you end up not being as drawn in as you could have if this story were created in a linear timeline fashion. See Harlan Coben for an author who pull this off well.

    I think that Berenson has a good future laid out before himself as an author. I just hope he continues to struggle with the genre medium and tries to push some boundaries with his next books. ...more info
  • Couldn't Finish It
    I would give it no stars if I could. If you enjoy false bravado, racism, the end justifying any means and this country's insane policies in the middle east-This is your cup of tea. I felt like this was written for people who would join a milltia or go out and shoot up roadsigns.
    I am not a muslim, not foreign born, and not of a minority. ...more info
  • Nothing spectacular
    I bought this book because of the Vince Flynn review, and I love all of the Vince Flynn/Mitch Rapp books. This book wasn't bad, but it definitely wasn't a page-turner for me. There really wasn't as much action with the main character as I had hoped for. It is scary to think about how easy it would be for terrorists to attack our country as they did in this book. ...more info
  • A homecoming, sort of
    John Wells has been away from the United States and his home state of Montana for a decade. Since 1996, he's been a deep cover agent in Afghanistan for the Central Intelligence Agency. So deep that he leads a band of Qaeda guerrillas and is known to them as Jalal. He's even met bin Laden. John's only message to his Langley CIA controller, Jennifer Exley, was back in 2001.

    Now, Wells is going home on the orders of the senior Qaeda leadership. Once there, he'll be expected to assist Khadri, a fiendishly clever and devious Qaeda planner, in carrying out a major act of violence against America.

    To the head honchos of the CIA, John is an enigma and not to be trusted. Hell, he even carries around a copy of the Koran and prays to Allah. Now, what sort of red, white and blue American does that? As for Khadri, he doesn't trust anybody much less one born of the Great Satan.

    Wells is truly on his own.

    Is THE FAITHFUL SPY the best espionage thriller I've ever read? Um ... no. But, as the debut novel from author Alex Berenson, it's exceptional in its scope, presentation, and imaginativeness. It's written with the flair and confidence of a more experienced author. Not since Lee Child's first Jack Reacher thriller, Persuader, have I been so impressed. Four stars, therefore, with the expectation that his next one, The Ghost War, will be even better as the Wells and Exley characters gain more definition. Four stars leaves room for the expected improvement.

    My single niggle of dissatisfaction comes from the fact that John didn't fully engage my empathy and sympathy as some other fictional protagonists have done in the past even from book one. Child's Reacher and Elleston Trevor's (aka Adam Hall) Quiller come immediately to mind as both personae have endearing subtleties; Quiller had standing instructions with his employer to send roses to Moira in the event of his death, while Reacher doesn't even know how to iron a shirt. I expect Wells to grow on me; we'll see....more info
  • A great read.
    Admittedly, I have never been a reader of this genre and really was expecting to skim my way to the end...but I didn't. I quite enjoyed every word and all the characters, and was shocked to learn that this was a first novel. The author's manipulation of language, even in a work somewhat unconcerned with sound, is strikingly mature. The plot is clever and crafty and the characters come alive, offering something for any reader. The independent woman in me wanted to be Exley and my adventurous self wanted to be Wells...or perhaps just sleep with him...or the author. Have you seen him in person? Yum. I would like a poster for my bedroom ceiling...but I'd settle for a sequel!...more info
  • Exciting and Riveting!
    A great novel by Alex Berenson! A lot of action and excitement through out the novel....more info
  • Riveting!
    George Smiley, the prototypical Cold War spy, plied his trade in a shadow world where truth, loyalty, and even reality were relative concepts. At the end of the day, the intelligence agent learned to trust only his self. The demise of the Cold War ended one sub-genre of spy fiction, but the new geopolitics of the post-Cold War role created new opportunities to revitalize the spy novel. The Faithful Spy, whose title invokes memories of Smiley himself, is the first masterpiece of a new era of ideological and religious struggle.

    John Wells, an Ivy Leaguer, joins the Agency and agrees to be implanted in Afghanistan. When 9/11 occurs he is the Agency's only asset within al-Qaeda. But for the most part he is incommunicado and unavailable to his superiors in Langley. His refusal to come out when he makes contact with a U.S. special forces team makes his motives open to question, and his sincere conversion to Islam leads to deep distrust of his true loyalties.

    Wells is not fully trusted by al-Qaeda either, but he is given a mission and reenters his country. What is his mission? Even Wells doesn't truly know giving the bureaucrats in the CIA even more reason to believe he has been turned.

    What follows is both breathtaking and thoroughly satisfying. Berenson has produced a modern day Smiley, prone to both reflection and action. Hopefully we will see more of John Wells. ...more info
  • Sharing the Crest
    In the vacuum of Cold War espionage, "The Faithful Spy" has been marketed as a hugely promising debut from a new player in the fiction market. Berenson is a writer with NY Times experience and with time spent in Iraq. On paper, it all looks good. But can he deliver?

    The story starts with John Wells, a CIA man infiltrated into the al Qaeda network. His loyalties have come into question after the fiasco of 9/11, and even those who still trust him are concerned about attaching their careers to his success or failure. In essence, Wells becomes a man without a country. He must question his own beliefs, politically and spiritually, while trying to remain alive for one express purpose: sabotaging the deadly efforts of al Qaeda's top man. Like Le Carre, Berenson takes us into the minds of players on both sides of the ideological coin. Like Forsyth, he hammers out details with a reporter's precision and brevity. In the end, he pulls off a stunning debut, and one of the best books I've read this year.

    In recent years, bestselling espionage authors have continued exploring ideas with mixed results, while Gayle Lynds and others such as Flynn and Thor have led a wave of new thriller writers. At the crest of that wave, Daniel Silva has proved the most consistent with his masterful Gabriel Allon series. Now, at last, Silva may have to share that crest with a talented newcomer. It's good news for us all.

    ...more info
  • A serious thriller
    Why can't intelligence agencies penetrate al Qaeda, many ask. Alex Berenso provides an answer, and much more in THE FAITHFUL SPY--a novel that challenges the reader to confront a realistic picture of "The War with Terrorism." This is a serious novel that will take the reader into the world of al Qaeda, the Tribal Areas of Pakistan, and the futility of our current border defenses.

    I will not nitpick the author over the few technical mistakes, which only a weapons expert would catch. He gets most of the nuclear weapons stuff right. Pu-239 and U-235 are not the best choice for a dirty bomb, but either would contaminate, cause panic, and both are toxic metals.

    In addition to several very creative plot twists, Berenson tackles the peaceful aspects of the Qur'an in a creative manner. The protagonist, John Wells, is in deep undercover as a member of al Qaeda. He begins to become his false identity, a risk all deep undercover agents face. One quarter Muslim by birth, Wells begins to read the Qur'an and eventually becomes a Muslim. Several peaceful verses, surahs, from the Qur'an are quoted. Throughout the story, Wells struggles with his identity, as does al Qaeda and his employer the CIA. The author makes several penetrating observations through Wells: the emotional draw of being a member of the Faithful in mosques, for example.

    Berenson fails to mention any of the warlike verses from the Qur'an, or explain that the peaceful verses were recited by Muhammad in Mecca before he was driven out. Muhammad recited the warlike verses during the last ten years of his life when he was a warlord and conqueror. The third Caliph assembled the Quran twenty years after Muhammad's death, and the surahs were arranged by length, longest first to shortest last, so they are not in chronological order.

    Berenson deals with torture in a realistic manner. Sometimes it is necessary, unless you are willing to sacrifice a large number of our innocent civilians or a city. Torture is a subject difficult to discuss, much less accept, yet sometimes it is the only way to prevent an attack....more info
  • One of the better thrillers I've read in a while.
    There's much to like about "The Faithful Spy". The story feels both credible and well researched. The central character is interesting and the plot maintains the suspense with plenty of unexpected twists. I've read a number of thrillers and this is one of the better ones.

    It falls short of being a five star read for me. The beginning and end of the book are gripping, but it slows right down in the middle (when the lead character is largely absent from the action). The story covers a lot of ground, from the front in Afghanistan to interrogations in Diego Garcia, from behind the scenes at the CIA to secret terrorist cells in the US and Canada. This is a tricky balancing act and at times the pace got bogged down with explanations about US policy or by Berenson's need to personalize events by fleshing out even minor characters.

    Nevertheless, a well written and exciting spy novel that feels extremely plausible. One of the better thrillers I've read in a while....more info
  • A prize winner, really?
    Really hard to understand how this book won the coveted Edgar award. It got off to a reasonably promising start, but by the end I found myself skipping whole paragraphs -- they were just that dull, serving only to fill pages but doing nothing to advance the plot. This in a suspense novel. And the ending was just silly. Overall a big disappoinment. ...more info
  • A new author worth a look
    Trapped in an airport with a flight delay and out of reading material, I ventured into the airport bookstore to pick up a book or magazine. Somewhat uncharacteristically, I allowed myself to be drawn by a book jacket's plot description into buying an unknown author. In the end, it was a worthwhile purchase. Berenson's first novel, The Faithful Spy, was actually quite a good novel. Like many of the recent novels published by numerous authors of late, Berenson is focused on al-Qaeda and terrorism. Despite the plethora of works out there today that touch this subject, Berenson is able to spin a believable and intriguing story that did not feel repetitive. While perhaps not as polished as some of his compatriots in the action-thriller genre, this work nonetheless moved along with pace. Berenson effectively uses plot twists and unexpected action to keep the reader engaged and turning the pages. If you have been wondering about whether to take a chance with a new author, pick up this book. You will not regret it....more info
  • Faithful Spy
    I typically do not like spy novels, this is the best one I have ever read. Worth the read. ...more info
  • A fun read
    A fun, exciting read. It's fast paced and offers an interesting look at the terrorist mind-set. I'll read more of his books....more info
  • 20 pages was enough - too much, even.
    Most positive blurbs by known authors strike me as disingenuous and usually disuade me from buying the book. This time, though, I ignored my better judgement and bought "The Faithful Spy", even though it was "blurbed" by an author named Vince Flynn.

    The dust jacket revealed that the book's author, Alex Berenson, is/was a reporter for the NY Times. In addition, the book was published by Random House, so I thought that might indicate that the book would be half-way decent. I was wrong.

    After reading about 20 pages of really dull, amateurish writing I decided that life is just too short to spend on this sort of stuff. I also decided that in the future I will think twice before assuming that the name Random House is in any way an indication of a book's worth. I certainly wish Mr. Berenson good luck with his next book, but I for one will not be standing in line to buy it.

    ...more info
  • Not riveting, but not bad
    The Faithful Spy is an ok read. In the first half of the story Berenson tries to put the reader inside the head of an American coming to grips with Islamist thinking. While this section tries to offer insight to headlines of current events, it drags.

    Diametrically opposed to the first part of the book, the 2nd part picks up the pace and is a more engaging read. The price paid, though, is the devolution of the writing to standard, "Hollywood" schlock, e.g., gun battles where our hero manages to win against long odds (in the form of a 1 vs Many numerical disadvantage a la Bruce Willis in Die Harder).

    All told, an ok read.

    A note about the 1-star reviews: A common complaint is that Berenson's depiction is racist/stereotyped/whatever. Given I don't know any Islamist jihadists, I can't say if it's a stereotype, or not, but the "critics" probably don't know any, either... Since he was inside the war zone, I'll take Berenson's interpretation as being more informed than mine or the "critics"....more info
  • No Robert Ludlum But...............
    I am a huge spy lover reader and in my opinion Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy are the two best of all time. I have been looking for another author and book about espionage and "The Faithful Spy" has it all. I am looking forward to his next novel and the series. I loved the book because it was easy to read and follow along with. Sometimes spy novels get so wrapped up in details it makes the plot seem pointless. However, this novel keeps the writing basic and exciting. The book is well written and keeps the action moving. The main character is very believable. If you are looking for a new spy novel author I think this is the one...more info
  • A Serial Worthy of Summer
    I read very little fiction and even less thriller/espionage genre fiction in this vein, but after reading a NYT review of NYT reporter Berenson's latest effort, I decided to go back to the start of the John Wells series and see what the fuss was about.

    This is a great read! It may define me as a snob, but I don't see how an espionage/spy thriller could ever really be a great book. Still, I think this work comes as close as possible to transcending the underlying cheapness of the genre and just existing as good, solid literature.

    One of Berenson's great achievements is to overcome the tendency these books have to "rip from the headlines." Instead, he takes global terror, extreme Islam, US foreign policy, and other real life issues and exploits them to great narrative effect. I challenge any reader to take a look at the book and not marvel at how fully Berenson understands the actual geopolitical issues undergirding the novel and how adeptly he has crafted a story that doesn't borrow from the news, but anticipated much of it.

    The best news of all...if you enjoy this book, you have two more just waiting for you.


    This is spy writing for the ...more info