****Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage

Pakistan street scene

Street scene, Pakistan (photo: r12a, Creative Commons license)

By David Ignatius – narrated by Firdous Bamji. A friend recommended Ignatius to me, and I was lukewarm about the first book of his I read (The Director), but I’m glad I came back for a second try.The story in this 2012 spy thriller concerns a super-secret CIA offshoot working in Los Angeles under deep cover as a pseudo music-biz operation called the Hit Parade (a name the CIA officers use without apparent irony). But something is amiss, because a key undercover asset disappears from the streets of Pakistan, followed by the assassination of three more agents in postings around the world. It’s up to officer Sophie Marx to try to discover the truth, the compromises, the torturous path of violence and deception that instigated and supported the Hit Parade’s enemies.

This plot is more persuasive than that of many thrillers, with startling authenticity enabled by Ignatius’s journalistic career. (He is an associate editor and columnist for The Washington Post and writes about foreign affairs.) The NPR review quotes one of the book’s great lines: “Americans did not like lying to others. It made them uncomfortable. Their specialty was lying to themselves.”

As important, the characters are well-drawn. I was happy to see the crusty old CIA hand Cyril Hoffman reappear in this book. He’s a devil, but an entertaining devil. And he’s ours. Mostly. I especially liked Ignatius’s characterization of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence chief, General Mohammed Malik, trying to make sense of the Americans.

Mostly the narration is fine, but Bamji puts a slight whine in Sophie’s voice that’s not just annoying, but inconsistent with her dogged character.