Review

Black Ops: A Presidential Agent Novel

by W. E. B. Griffin

W.E.B. Griffin’s pen runs fast and furious with the newest
novel in his Presidential Agent series, BLACK OPS. Readers
familiar with these books will cheer Delta Force Lieutenant Colonel
Charley Castillo’s swaggering actions in an undercover
operation. Castillo owns a European newspaper corporation based in
Germany. Dining on Christmas Day in a Virginia safehouse, he
receives word that a reporter for his paper has been murdered. Then
an Austrian couple working for the CIA is found strangled in a
Vienna park. Two additional assassination attempts made on key
political figures are uncovered that evening. Castillo’s
prior activity to expose an “oil-for-food” plot has
made him numerous enemies. Known for his
“shotgun-style” bravado, the colorful Ops leader had
left a trail of carnage and dead bodies from a number of foreign
countries, including Russia.

Now, Castillo jets the newspaper’s co-owner and relative
to Germany to attend the reporter’s funeral. There, he is
given a note stating that he, Billy Kocian and Otto Goerner would
be assassination targets. The “oil-for-food” scandal
has brought the vipers out of the woodwork. Castillo’s
dilemma is to identify the secret organization ordering the
kills.

Prior to their deaths, the Austrian CIA operatives known as the
Kuhls indicated that two Russian agents wanted to defect to the
U.S. The CIA agents in charge of that area had not made contact
with them yet. So it is probable that Russian intelligence is
responsible for the Kuhls’ murders, to teach the U.S. a
lesson in meddling.

An unwitting Castillo travels by train to the funeral site,
along with Kocian and their kennel of family dogs. In the dining
car, Castillo notices four people at a table and meets one of the
men’s look with a cool stare. “He looks older than his
passport photo…” Castillo thinks. “It’s
him.”

Castillo addresses the man as Tom Barlow and meets his wife,
daughter and sister. He offers to discuss a business opportunity in
private, speaking fluently with Barlow and his sister in Hungarian
and Russian. The two are Russian spies, both colonels in the
Russian Foreign Intelligence Service. With the Kuhls murdered, they
become leery of their own agency and the CIA, believing themselves
to be at risk from both. They solicit Castillo to fly them to
Argentina, where they hope to dissolve into the populace.

Our flamboyant hero finds himself in the middle of a stewpot, a
target of foreign assassins and the object of the CIA’s
disdain when he interferes with the agents’ defection. Enter
Ambassador Montvale, a confidant to the President who believes that
Castillo answers to him for all actions. To ensure that Montvale
remains pacified, Castillo keeps him in the loop of
“need-to-know” information he deems necessary. However,
Montvale blasts Castillo with all his political cannons for
interference in the Russian/CIA affair. His career appears to have
ended, as he is being discharged in disgrace for psychological
deficiencies and “over the top” action. He evades the
authorities pursuing him with aid from his loyal entourage, those
who have worked hard for him in missions for the President. With
Montvale, the FBI and CIA nipping at his heels, he maneuvers his
crew to carry out what may be their final mission.

Griffin documents the actions taken by Castillo with extensive
background information, much of which describes earlier clandestine
ventures. In BLACK OPS, Castillo meets his match, intellectually
and sexually, when his affair with Svetlana, the female Russian
spy, becomes a reality. The reader wonders, nearly to its
conclusion, if the relationship is for real. Griffin refers to the
lady spy in terms both playful and serious. “Her
Charley” bears the jocular banter from his group for her
possessive attentions. Religious faith, or the lack of it, takes a
small portion of Griffin’s stage.

My only criticism of BLACK OPS is Griffin’s tendency to
over-explain the history of an operation whenever a new character
enters the arena. Interesting but indulgent theorizing about the
SVR’s centuries-old background may be overdone, but BLACK OPS
will carry Griffin’s followers to the conclusion with
anticipation about Castillo’s future in the secret operations
venue. Nobody but Griffin knows if Castillo will continue as the
President’s man. We anxiously await the next novel in this
exceptional series.

Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on December 22, 2010

Black Ops: A Presidential Agent Novel
by W. E. B. Griffin

  • Publication Date: December 30, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult
  • ISBN-10: 0399155171
  • ISBN-13: 9780399155178