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The Silent Man


Over the last two months, I’ve fallen into my usual book-reading pattern of starting books and not finishing them. I’d been doing pretty well for a while. For instance, in January I finished three books, all mentioned in earlier posts. (The Naipaul biography, the book on McGeorge Bundy and the Vietnam War, and Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story collection.) Meanwhile, I am still in the middle of the book by Harvard economists Goldin and Katz on education and technology and Jeff Madrick’s book on big government.

This was the context in which I read Nick Kristof’s blog post two weeks ago on two hot books. He began by writing

I’ve just read two terrific books by Times colleagues that I commend to you. For those who like thrillers, Alex Berenson is emerging as one of the best and he has just published “The Silent Man.” It’s a continuation of the series he started with “The Faithful Spy” and “The Ghost War” and it’s just as good as those two. He has a wonderful character in his protagonist, John Wells, who infiltrated Al Qaeda and became a Muslim in the process.

Don’t tell anybody, but I love thrillers. The problem is that the genre went downhill after the Cold War. Lee Child is superb, but he and Alex Berenson are the only great ones around now. And Alex’s novels always land on the best-seller lists, so he’s one of the few people in journalism with a proven business model.

Kristof’s praise of Lee Child made me a little nervous about his judgment. Last summer I explored the thriller genre a bit, having not read an international spy thriller in years, or maybe decades. The first one I read, thanks to Janet Maslin’s review in the NYT, was Lee Child’s latest, Nothing to Lose, the 12th Jack Reacher novel. I found it downright silly. (Then again, I did start it on a Friday night and finish it Saturday afternoon, unable to put it down except to sleep. And going to Lee Child’s website now, I see the clock ticking on Jack Reacher #13, due out in the UK 24 days, 14 hours, 44 minutes, and 13 seconds. US publication is 26 days later. I’ll have to decide whether to pay extra to order it from amazon.co.uk or wait to get the US edition.)

Anyway, deciding to trust Kristof, I ordered the Berenson book. (See Berenson’s website for more information.) I read it this past week, finishing it Thursday night rather than spending time with Gail as she prepared to head off to Scotland Friday. Had I written this post two days ago, I might have had something interesting to say, but by now, Sunday morning, the book has all but faded from my memory. That’s the thing about thrillers. They don’t stay with you. I don’t feel tempted to go back and read the earlier John Wells books. I do better with crime novels. What I’m really waiting for is George Pelecanos’s new one, due out May 12.

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