The Shadow Patrol by Alex Berenson
There is simply no better series of thrillers set in the context of the post-9/11 world than the John Wells novels written by New York Times correspondent Alex Berenson — and, yes, I am a Vince Flynn fan.
Berenson’s terrific series started with The Faithful Spy in which deep cover CIA agent John Wells, who had converted to Islam while infiltrating al-Qaeda, tries to stop a bio-terror attack on the U.S., while his superiors can’t decide whether to trust him because he failed to warn them in time about 9/11.
As the series goes on, Wells becomes a little less “faithful” and a lot more cynical about the American intelligence bureaucracy. But he never loses sight of one core belief: “The world would be a poorer place if the American dream died.”
Wells has saved America from nuclear attack, foiled a biological disaster, averted a war with the Chinese, and even infiltrated Mecca itself to stop radicals from toppling the Saudi regime and establishing (even more) of a terrorist base.
Berenson’s books are as literate as those by Len Deighton or Charles McCarry (yes, the cliché would be to say John LeCarre, but I find him insufferable and pretentious), but he’s also as wildly entertaining as Vince Flynn or Ted Bell.
The quality that really sets Berenson’s work apart comes from his wide experience as a foreign correspondent. He knows how the military works from being embedded with U.S. troops, and he has the ability to capture an exotic place and time with rich detail.
In The Shadow Patrol, Wells is assigned to find a mole in Kabul after al-Qaeda plants a double agent in the CIA who blows himself up to devastating effect (a scenario reminiscent of a real-life incident in Afghanistan a couple years ago)
In his quest, Wells also uncovers a drug-smuggling ring run by a Delta Force sniper, a burnt-out case who is uncaring that his illegal operation also is being used to move more than just heroin.
In case you think Berenson is turning into just another mainstream media writer who goes into places where evil operates and sees only the bad in the American military, he sets up his story with a chance for Wells to defend his country rhetorically.
Wells sits down with his long-estranged son, and they engage in an argument between someone who has seen the evil in the world and someone who mouths typical liberal bromides. One wonders if Berenson hasn’t had this exchange himself after returning from being embedded with American troops.
“These people we fight, they target civilians. Innocents… They strap bombs to kids your age, and blow themselves up in crowded markets.”
“When we fire missiles and blow up houses in Pakistan, what’s that?”
“I’m telling you, I’ve seen this up close, and we make mistakes, but these guys are not our moral equivalents.”
Right now, no one is better than Alex Berenson in writing thrillers about “those long, inconclusive conflicts that ground to a halt without parades or treaties, wars where the United States had a hundred different goals but the enemy had none, save to send American soldiers home in body bags.” Read them in order, and don’t miss one.