One of the smartest set of thriller novels going is the Alex Wells series. Journalist-turned-novelist Alex Berenson started strong with THE FAITHFUL SPY, which won a well-deserved Edgar Award, and the quality of each installment has increased exponentially since then. THE NIGHT RANGER, Berenson’s latest effort and the seventh book in the series, continues the trajectory of its predecessors as an edge-of-the-seat read that will keep you up for many nights for more than one reason.
One could be forgiven if the propelling element of THE NIGHT RANGER puts one in the mind of THE RUINS by Scott Smith, a book that it otherwise does not resemble in the slightest. Four friends travel to a foreign country seeking new experiences and adventure, and get into the worst possible trouble. Unlike the innocents in THE RUINS, however, the unwary in THE NIGHT RANGER consist of a quartet of friends --- two men, two women --- who have just graduated from a Montana college. They decide to celebrate the acquisition of their newly minted degrees by doing volunteer work in a Somalian refugee camp in Kenya. Each of them has his or her own reason for doing so, and such affect the events that ultimately take place.
"Possessed of a ticking clock that gets louder with each successive page, and infused with his accurate and canny vision of the manner in which the world truly works, this book is a new highwater mark for Berenson personally and for the thriller genre at large."
It is not long, however, before the weight of the hopelessness of unadulterated human misery takes its toll; the four decide three months into their self-imposed tour of duty that they need a break, and pile into an all-terrain vehicle for a vacation at a nearby resort. On the way, though, they are kidnapped and held as hostages by masked abductors who are silent as to their plans for them. To the world at large, the quartet has simply disappeared. No demands are met, and no one takes credit for their abduction. Public pleas for their return are ignored. As the result of a somewhat tenuous yet tender connection, the parents of one of the young women approach Wells for help, figuring that the more-than-capable ex-CIA agent is their best and only hope of recovering their daughter alive. However, a wise man knows what he does not know, and Wells is all too well aware of his limitations. No stranger to the Middle East, he will be in very unfamiliar and dangerous territory in East Africa.
Nonetheless, and with great reluctance, he undertakes the mission, slowly and carefully attempting to retrace the steps of the quartet while using methods conventional and otherwise to gather intelligence about the captors. When Wells appears to be on the verge of locating the missing graduates, everything changes, putting them in even greater danger and jeopardizing Wells in the process, with repercussions that may extend far beyond the perilous East African region where Wells frantically pursues the young Americans.
Berenson’s work, fictitious and otherwise, has always been characterized by his yeoman’s efforts at careful and exhaustive research that never gets in the way of the story. He has outdone himself yet again in THE NIGHT RANGER. Possessed of a ticking clock that gets louder with each successive page, and infused with his accurate and canny vision of the manner in which the world truly works, this book is a new highwater mark for Berenson personally and for the thriller genre at large.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 22, 2013