Review

The Silent Man

by Alex Berenson

Alex Berenson has been on my A-list of authors since I read the
first few pages of THE FAITHFUL SPY, his debut novel that
introduced John Wells, a maverick CIA agent who is neither too
tough nor too smart. Wells instead is believable; he is dogged and
determined, able to climb over the debris of his mistakes and keep
on going in pursuit of his goal. These qualities hold him in good
stead in THE SILENT MAN, Berenson’s third novel.

THE SILENT MAN proceeds along a couple of parallel tracks. The
first concerns a plot by Islamist terrorists to steal a pair of
nuclear bombs from what passes for a secured Russian storage
facility. Berenson reveals the depth of his talent here, as his
attention to small, real-world details is second to none. There is
one passage that deals with the proffer of an orange as a peace
offering that one might slide over on the way to a meatier point in
the narrative. Yet the inclusion of this vignette speaks volumes
concerning the dark misfortune of Russian society and provides a
subtle tinge to what is occurring in the story.

There is another passage in which Berenson describes the
grimness of the Black Sea, contrasting it with the Mediterranean,
its more attractive and successful sister. History does not unravel
wholly by happenstance; those geography classes that we all slept
through in grade school could still teach us much. Berenson’s
narrative regarding the theft of the bombs, their transport and the
ultimate fate of the people who carry it out unfolds gradually,
though not slowly by any means.

The other plot track concerns Wells, who most recently dragged
the world back from the brink of an American-Chinese conflict in
Berenson’s last novel, THE GHOST WAR. When Wells and his
fiancée are targeted by a brutal and effective attack on the
streets of Washington, D.C., Wells seeks a bloody revenge.
Resisting the efforts of his CIA handlers to rein him in, he cuts a
bloody swath across Eastern Europe but only succeeds in warning his
quarry away. In a stunning and ironic turn, however, Wells suddenly
finds that he must make a deal with the devil, calling off his plan
of revenge in order to obtain the information that he and the CIA
need to prevent a terrorist attack upon the highest levels of the
United States government.

Both Wells and the terrorists find themselves in a race against
time as Wells desperately tracks the path of an instrument of
destruction while those intent on using it can almost feel
Wells’s breath on their necks. Their race, both toward and
against destruction, leads to a climax that even the most jaded
thriller reader will not soon forget.

Berenson continues to meet and exceed the craftsmanship that he
exhibited in THE FAITHFUL SPY. Neither Wells nor his adversaries
are too smart or too lucky; both experience bad, real-world breaks
that add to the suspense that Berenson injects into every page
along the way, challenging anyone who cracks the binding on THE
SILENT MAN to stop reading. And while it is a complete work in
itself, Berenson leaves just enough loose ends dangling at its
conclusion to make the wait for the next dose of Wells seem
interminable.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 2, 2011

The Silent Man
by Alex Berenson

  • Publication Date: January 26, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Jove
  • ISBN-10: 0515147532
  • ISBN-13: 9780515147537