To date, Brian Haig has done an exemplary job in keeping his creation, Sean Drummond, from becoming stale over the course of five novels, moving him into different positions that place him in the middle of interesting assignments set in exotic locales while maintaining Drummond's smart aleck, can-do attitude and square peg personality that his superiors doggedly attempt to jam into that tightest of round holes --- U.S. government service. MAN IN THE MIDDLE maintains all of these elements, even as it is burdened somewhat by its attempts to be a talkative thriller. Thus, this is a novel that almost delivers the goods.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE finds Sean Drummond, a newly minted Army lieutenant colonel, assigned to investigate the death of Clifford Daniels, a highly influential defense advisor. It appears at first blush to be a suicide, but Drummond, naturally suspicious, believes that everything looks just a bit too staged. Teamed with Bian Tran, an Army M.P. who is also, somewhat inexplicably, investigating the case, Drummond finds that there are plenty of reasons that someone --- or several someones --- might want Daniels dead.
As it turns out, Daniels was the source of information that ultimately led to the war in Iraq --- information, it seems, that may have been false and supplied in a deliberate attempt to draw the United States into war. The investigation results in Drummond knocking down doors in a quest for truth, not only concerning Daniels's death but also that of the mission of the United States in Iraq. Sparks fly, as might be expected, between Drummond and Tran, with results that are predictable for those familiar with Drummond from previous books in the series.
Haig's Iraqi travelogue is fascinating, and his hypothesis concerning the centuries-old difficulties between the Shiite and Sunni Islamic sects as the underlying cause not only of the U.S. government's current difficulties but also of its initial involvement in the current conflict is spot on, as is his laying the blame for the instability in the region squarely at the feet of former president Jimmy Carter.
The problem, however, is that there are perhaps more talking points than one might expect within this type of work. The dialogue, both exterior and interior, does little to heighten the suspense here, and the proceedings go on for just a bit too long about just a bit too much before Haig decides to wrap things up. This is unfortunate, because MAN IN THE MIDDLE features a number of interesting (and potentially interesting) characters who, regrettably, barely keep their heads above the verbiage.
The conclusion of MAN IN THE MIDDLE provides a good place for Haig to either end the series or perhaps turn it in another direction. He certainly has built up enough good will to keep Drummond going for at least another few books. I, for one, would like to see Drummond get lucky --- in more ways than one --- and for Haig, at the same time, to lighten up a bit on the irony and turn the action dial up a notch or two. Let's see what happens.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 6, 2007