Review

Jericho's Fall

by Stephen L. Carter

JERICHO’S FALL by Stephen L. Carter is one of those rare
novels best described as a page-turner that, in its telling,
demands to be read and savored slowly. Carter writes books that are
most easily classified as political thrillers yet cross fiction
genres with brilliant impunity. His latest, if one insists on a
classification, is more concerned with espionage --- that most
political of activities --- but as with his other, stellar work,
Carter incorporates elements normally associated with other genres,
all the while telling its story in a voice that is irresistible
from first page to last.

As the novel begins, three women with hidden agendas and visible
cross-animosities have gathered at a magnificent house in the
Colorado mountains as Jericho Ainsley lives his final weeks.
Jericho is most famously the former head of the Central
Intelligence Agency; his guests are Rebecca DeForde and his two
daughters, Audrey and Pamela. Audrey, an Episcopal nun, has an
interesting background that is slowly revealed. Pamela is involved
in filmmaking, a driven individual who makes no secret of her
animosity and hostility toward Beck. It is Beck who is the most
significant figure of the three of them.

Jericho and Beck had been involved in a passionate and
ultimately destructive affair some 13 years prior when Beck was 19
and a sophomore at Princeton. After leaving the CIA, Jericho had
joined a private equity firm and then retired to take a position on
the Princeton faculty. His presence as a professor brought the
nattering naybobs out in droves, none more so than a bile-spitting
student demonstrator named Lewiston Clark. The affair and resultant
scandal when Jericho left his wife for Beck brought both parties
down. Forgotten but not gone, Jericho retreated to Stone Heights,
the mountain retreat in Colorado he purchased with the intent that
he and Beck would live out their days. Beck left school, entered
into a short but disastrous marriage, and has been supporting her
young but precocious daughter by working for a department store
chain in a job that Jericho dismissively describes as a
“glorified cashier.”

As JERICHO’S FALL begins, Jericho, suffering from terminal
cancer, has requested that Beck come to him, ostensibly so that
they might bid each other farewell. And come she does --- even as a
mysterious black helicopter buzzes Stone Heights, even as
representatives of the chattering classes seek interviews, even as
Clark, now a journalist, wants deceptive access to Jericho,
ostensibly to write the great man’s biography with bad intent
but with an even darker purpose. The only person absent from the
tableau is Sean, Jericho’s estranged son, with whom Beck has
established an odd if real friendship. Of greatest concern,
however, are the people from Jericho’s past life who hover
just within the shadows. Jericho, either paranoid or supremely
aware, feared nothing more or less than assassination. He had taken
steps to ensure that, in the event of his demise, the secrets that
Jericho had acquired during his intelligence career would be
disclosed to the light of day.

As the number of his remaining days dwindles, forces gather to
acquire those secrets, to hide some, and to take others as their
own. Jericho, who is described as having some time ago slipped from
unbalanced to unhinged, remains intellectually sharp, suspicious of
all but trusting only Beck, speaking in riddles and making
enigmatic requests for her assistance while attempting to lure her
into his deathbed for a final auld lang syne. What is
undeniable, however, is that all is not well. A mutilated dog is
dumped in the driveway; a trusted family friend is found dead under
suspicious circumstances; and one of Jericho’s former
colleagues issues a warning to Beck about helping him with anything
remotely connected to what is either his will, a tell-all
autobiography, or something else. Beck finds herself drawn into the
mystery of what is occurring around her. Part of the answer lies in
Bethel, a small town near Stone Heights. Another lies in the past.
Most, however, lies within Jericho himself. And as malignant forces
dip and swirl around Beck and Jericho’s daughters, the old
cold warrior is girding his loins for one final war.

JERICHO’S FALL is one of those novels that people linger
over and re-read simply for the experience and pleasure of
analyzing how the author worked his magic. Carter strikes a perfect
balance here amongst the mystery, the suspense, the political, and,
yes, the romance --- a story of two former lovers, each of whom had
their lives irrevocably changed by their attraction with the other.
It frames, among many other things, a subtle question: What happens
when two people who were involved with each other and sacrificed
all for the relationship only to separate suddenly encounter each
other once again, with unresolved matters of the heart still
between them?

Carter raises that issue, and many others, from the personal to
the global, in a prose tapestry that is wonderful and
unforgettable. For example, he presents a quote from Jericho that
appears about one-third of the way through the book. It compares
people to countries and contrasts friends with enemies, and
contains more immutable truth in a few sentences than one normally
encounters in entire volumes. Carter is possessed of a sharp and
subtle wit that, were it a sword cane, could separate head from
shoulders with a whisper. And JERICHO’S FALL is the sharpest
manifestation of his talent to date.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

Jericho's Fall
by Stephen L. Carter

  • Publication Date: June 1, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 030747447X
  • ISBN-13: 9780307474476