Body of Lies (Anglais) Broché – 2 octobre 2008
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The author is horrible on the "love story" components - it ranges from plodding to painful. Yet the love story is such a large portion of the book that it squeezes out the spy story.
And the spy story seems to be warped to favor visuals and dialog over thinking.
The author does not live up to his reputation as a writer of spy stories (from recommendations - this is the first of his books I read). The implausibilities and nonsense are glaring and far too numerous. The love story destroys the pacing of the spy story. The ending is badly forced (both in pacing and content) - it feels like the author was approaching a deadline and decided he had to wrap it up very quickly.
And especially annoying, the author cheats. When you tell a story from the perspective of one of the characters, you can't suddenly start excluding the reader from that character's conversations as a (lazy) way to create suspense. You can't have characters who are experts at keeping secrets (1) randomly reveal that they have a secret and then (2) reveal it to the main character just because he essentially pleads "Aw come on, tell me" a couple of times. This is a lazy - if not contemptuous (of the reader) - way to reveal information, although the demands of a screenplay may dictate such shortcuts. And you can't have a CIA case officer who is repeatedly incurious about significant events.
Because of the author's reputation, the promise of the opening chapters and the intriguing idea (hence two stars rather than one), I got sucked into reading to the end. But I came away feeling not just let down, but cheated and abused by the author.
The book dishonors its two main inspirations (cited by the author in an interview): the WW2 British operation described in the book "The Man Who Never Was: ..." and the Jordanian intelligence operation that caused the Abu Nidal terrorist organization to self-destruct.
Examples that avoid spoilers:
1. The body is presented to the terrorists in a shoot-out in hostile territory in which he - the most important person present - is riding in the only unarmored car in the convoy. Plausible?
2. The "pocket litter" (inherited from "The Man Who Never Was") is poorly thought out. First, many espionage books (fiction and non-fiction) talk about case officers emptying their pockets and doing a complete document shift (Aside: pocket litter was already a known problem in WW2 - movies show aircraft crews were reminded of this). Second: One of the items included on the body was a receipt for a gas purchase. Think: You are a CIA case officer buying gas on the way to the airport to fly to Pakistan. Supposing you even bother to ask the gas pump for a receipt, do you put the receipt in your pocket or in the car's glove box (to deal with when you return)? Everyone I asked picked the later. Or how about leaving it in your hotel room in Pakistan? (Note: pocket litter was important in TMWNW because he was traveling between rear areas and wouldn't have taken the precautions of someone going into combat.)
3. The case officer visits the site of a staged car bombing during preparations. Why? It unnecessarily simplifies making the connection by anyone doing surveillance of him. Furthermore, they evacuate people from the target several _days_ before the attack, greatly increasing the chance of the operation being "blown." Why? The only reason I could figure that that it greatly simplified exposition in the planned movie.
4. The problems with the condition of the body are acknowledged and then ignored. In "The Man Who Never Was", they plan for him to be exposed to the (harsh) elements (both actual and assumed by the discoverers) to obscure evidence it has been in storage. In this book, the body will be seen by the enemy within minutes of his supposed death. It is not credible that they would not notice the difference (blood oozing instead of spurting).
5. The "poison" that the CIA plans to inject into the terrorist organization doesn't seem to fit the bill - it seems to be more of a mild diuretic.
Ignatius' book is neither a total failure nor a total success. His strong suit is plotting and holding together a complex and multi-layered concoction of head games, played out by masters to whom the pawns are readily sacrificed, and dismissed. He is weakest in the love angle, where he becomes trite and predictable, getting precariously near to "sudsy" when the love interest of Alice Melville becomes a major focal point.
Against a mounting background of suicide bombing incidents in Europe, Roger Farris, former journalist and present CIA agent devises a plan to plant a suitable corpse, christened Harry Meeker, where Al Qaeda agents will be sure to find it. Harry is decked out with suitable pocket detritus; and he is properly cuffed to a dossier intended to convince higher ups in the terror pecking order that they have been compromised in the worst possible way. The major target is the elusive Suleiman the Magnificent, a less than humble operating ID for Al Qaeda's principal bombing strategist.
There are plot distractions that demand a fair bit of suspension of disbelief, as when Farris' boss, Hoffman, yanks him back to D.C. from his Jordanian posting, a bit more than seems plausible. This observation particularly applies once the reader has met, and begun to appreciate, the brilliance and guile of Hani Salaam, chief of Jordanian intelligence.
Here I file a complaint that makes me a nitpicker: Hani Salaam is such a meticulous individual that I would have expected a writer to have afforded him more grammatical respect crafting his dialogue. Salaam is such a captivating character that he deserves it.
For insights into spy games, Predator surveillance craft, and a few brilliant instances of double-triple-quadruple cross, "Body of Lies" deserves a reading. Hoffman's computer geek crew, Hani Salaam and Ajit Singh will hold your attention. The rest is a matter of patient forebearance.
Issue 1: The love story, as it was, was so hackneyed. I counted two dates before he was deeply in love? Also, how many times did he blurt "I love you" apropos of nothing in their conversations? Six? I get that this is supposed to motivate his actions or drive this resolution, but Mr. Igatius' strong suit is not romatic dialogue. The wistful remembrances, the happy family denoument, blech.
Issue 2: The CIA is rendered as more of a real place than usual in this genre UNTIL Hoffman gives us a tour of his secret lair. Populated with your standard set of 'crackerjack braniac outsiders' who have a sparkling rapport and super-computers that hold all the secrets. The multi-millionaire ex-hedge-fund guru who now works in the super-black ops? I expected them to introduce Schwartzenegger and Tom Arnold it was so cartoonish.
Issue 3: [Spoiler here] Up until 20 pages left in the book, our 'hero' doesn't have the foggiest what is going on. Everyone likes a twist, but this one fairly clearly demonstrates that our boy is a complete idiot. The Jordanian intelligence guy is able to completely manipulate EVERYTHING and the fact that the CIA seized on the SAME GUY he was already running sure helped. How does the secret-lair team know all and then totally miss this connection? Further, how does the SLT follow through on the operation and then totally miss the Jordan guy tracking the whole thing around. So the point of this book is that the Jordanian intelligence service is dominating and the CIA ultimately has no idea what is going on at any point? Fine, that.
Issue 4: How many references to the poison dental bridge? A dozen? Over and over he writes about this. The resolution? He leaves in the car. WHAT? All that ink for that? Kind of lost his grip on that particular plot device, huh?
There are certainly plenty of sidehand references on torture, the Iraq war, the war on terrorism to create an overall indictment of the US angle in such. I believe this begets the glowing reviews on this. Peel away that rhetoric and we've the usual spy-thriller confluence of impossible coincidences, hidden (and largely impossible) string-pullers, wicked-bad love-story, and loner hero. It's as dumb as the rest of them.