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The intricately plotted 'The Counterfeit Agent' is good but not Berenson's best

Is Iran poised to attack the United States
G.P. Putnam & Sons

The Counterfeit Agent by Alex Berenson


Alex Berenson's singular talent, ably demonstrated in the previous 7 John Wells novels, is the ability to build up a convincing world scenario. From the Arabian peninsula, to the jungles of Africa, Berenson is able to find a new story that rings true and believable. Then Wells is cast out there to use his talents, smarts, spycraft and muscular violence to winnow out the truth. Like the real world, John Wells does not always succeed. There are losses of life and of innocence. Berenson, however, seems to have a handle on the world's hot spots and can ably write about Muslims in Arabia, pirates in Africa or a girl with a reed thin voice trying to survive in South America.

The buildup in "The Counterfeit Agent" is very impressive. Berenson outdoes himself in putting together a convincing conspiracy. An unknown ruthless female agent has purchased weapon grade material for a bomb. She has hired a rouge ex spy and put together a hit squad. An America spy in Istanbul, Brian Taylor, has been approached by a Reza, a mysterious Irani, with secrets to tell about his country's plans against America, and the secrets Reza spills are coming true. Could Iran really be thinking of attacking the United States?

Wells, who frets about his now 40 year old body, taking extra time on the shooting range, and doing the kind of exercising that the rest of us dream about, needs a respite from real life. He has proposed to his girlfriend, but she wants him to give up the spy life and gives him 30 days to figure out what he wants.

Enter Vinny Duto, the ex head of the CIA, who is now a Senator. Duto has learned from an old contact in South America that someone is targeting a CIA Station Chief for assassination. He and Ellis Shafer, who is still at the CIA, dispatch Wells to see if the plot is real and the hunt is on.

There is one great scene near the end of the novel where Wells must use every bit of his wits and muscles to extract himself from a tough situation, but the end of the novel ends on a cliffhanger, with America poised on the doorstep of war and a major player unmasked in an "aha" moment, without much in the way of setup. It is the type of neat solution that is the hallmark of a lazy writer, not one of the scope of Berenson, and detracts from the overall story.

The "Counterfeit Agent" is a good book, but not among Berenson's best.

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