Dan Fesperman's finely tuned espionage novels concentrate more on the emotional toil of being an undercover agent than the action-packed, breathless scenes that drive many spy novels. Fesperman (The Double Game) looks at the real identities behind those clandestine personas and considers the nuances of spy craft--and there is plenty of it in his 12th novel, The Cover Wife.
Set in 1999, The Cover Wife offers a fictional account of the terrorist cell that began in Hamburg, Germany, and would eventually lead to the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. That story alone would make for a gripping plot, but Fesperman ups the ante with CIA agent Claire Saylor, who has a reputation not only for getting results but also for defying her supervisors. Claire is asked to pose as the wife of Winston Armitage, "as American as apple pie," tenured professor of languages, especially Aramaic and Arabic. Winston's scholarly look at the Koran brings a new interpretation that will be, at the least, controversial and, more likely, cause violent reactions, allowing Claire to learn the terrorist cell's plans. While it seems laughable, Winston claims to have proof that jihadi martyrs will be rewarded by 72 white raisins, not 72 virgins. The Cover Wife also involves Mahmoud Yassin, a radicalized Arab youth whose commitment is derailed by his attraction to a Westernized woman.
The Cover Wife smoothly incorporates a gripping plot with insightful character studies as Fesperman illustrates the thrill, frustration and challenges of those whose undercover personalities often overwhelm their humanity and their reality. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer