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The Cover Wife

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Member Reviews

What a treasure Dan Fesperman is!  In THE COVER WIFE, Fesperman delivers another novel rich in secrets, vividly evoked, and gorgeously balanced on ethical tightropes. Highly recommended for anyone who loves literary espionage fiction.
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I did not enjoy this book, as I felt that a white person writing yet another book about middle eastern terrorists simply adds to the negative stereotypes and, in turn, contributes to acts of hatred, xenophobia, and violence against Muslim/ middle eastern people.
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Published by Knopf on July 6, 2021

In a certain kind of spy novel, nothing is as it seems. There are secrets within secrets. False identities conceal other false identities. Telling the good guys from the bad, the truth from lies, becomes as difficult for the reader as it is for the protagonist. Spy novels of that nature are good fun when they are handled skillfully. The Cover Wife is Dan Fesperman’s tutorial in deception.

Professor Winston Armitage, a scholar of Aramaic and Arabic languages, has written a book that contends the Quran has been mistranslated. The virgins that have been promised to martyrs are actually raisins or white grapes. Since terrorists would be unlikely to sacrifice their lives for raisins in the afterlife, even particularly delicious raisins, the book is intended to cause a stir in the terrorist community. At least, the CIA hopes that will be the result. Armitage is going on a book tour at the CIA’s expense, a scheme of information warfare cooked up by Paul Bridger, who manages operations across Europe.

Claire Saylor has a complicated history with Bridger. He assigns Claire to the team that will guard Armitage. She will play the role of Armitage’s wife. In an unofficial role, Bridger wants Claire to conduct surveillance in Hamburg. She conducts unofficial surveillance of her own and photographs someone in Hamburg who might be running the operation, using Bridger as a front.

Two other characters in Hamburg are important to the story. One is a young man named Mahmoud who seems to be a willing and eager recruit to Osama bin Laden’s cause. The other is Ken Donlan, an FBI agent in Hamburg who has worked with Claire in the past. Claire and Ken encounter each other while they are both keeping a clandestine eye on Mahmoud.

They observe that Mahmoud seems to be getting along well with a group of young Muslims who are associated with terrorism. One member of the group is getting married. Another of Mahmoud's friends is already married but is being sent away on a mission. The young man’s headstrong wife entreats Mahmoud to talk her husband out of doing whatever he has been assigned to do. Mahmoud is enchanted and unnerved by the woman’s beauty. Even seeing her uncovered face seems like a sin for which he will need to atone. Mahmoud feels torn by divided loyalty to his friend and to a woman who will be at risk if she interferes with his friend’s assignment.

The plot could move in many directions. Part of the intrigue is generated by uncertainty. What is the story about? What is Bridger’s endgame? Who is the mysterious man in Claire’s photograph? What plan is taking Mahmoud and his friends away from Hamburg? The questions eventually converge, yielding a surprising answer that causes the reader to rethink assumptions about how the plot has unfolded. Fesperman misleads the reader, but only because his characters are misled. In fact, the reader will come to understand the story’s key truth before it becomes apparent to the characters.

Claire and Ken are reasonably complex and likable characters. They play the civil servant role that is common in espionage thrillers — spies who want to do the right thing but haven’t been told the secrets that will help them understand what is right and what is wrong. They work for bureaucrats who are also common in spy thrillers, employees who have risen in the ranks because of their ability to stab others in the back to protect their positions.

Fesperman conceived an excellent idea and avoided being overly ambitious in its execution. He puts all of those elements into play to tell a relatively simple story that seems complex to the characters, simply because they aren’t allowed to see the big picture. For pulling off a credible surprise — the kind of surprise that, when the truth dawns on the reader, will provoke an “Oh wow” — at the end of an entertaining story, Fesperman earns an easy recommendation.

RECOMMENDED
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As always a very well done mystery/ thriller, this one about how the CIA infiltrated an undercover agent into an AL QAEDA terrorist cell in Hamburg who before being “ incapacitated” -though not killed-had the information about 9/11 but was unable to fully convey it. It also cleverly conveys the interagency rivalry within our security agencies.A good read and a great ending.
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The Cover Wife by Dan Fesperman
Rating: 5 stars

Summary: Two years prior to September 11th a group of alphabet agencies are monitoring a group of suspected planners in Hamburg Germany. Schemes are set up and individual agents with different agendas are following them but not talking to each other. What plans are the suspects planning?

Comments: Sadly, I don’t believe are alphabet agents are talking to each other 20 years past the horrific attacks. Wonderful book with some nifty twists.
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Claire’s last secret op (in #Beirut) was a bust. Now, the Agency is shipping her off to Hamburg, on “#security” detail for an American author’s much anticipated #book release. The book’s premise is that the where people now believe the #Quran promises 12 virgins to those who sacrifice their lives for Allah, this author claims the translation is actually 12 raisins. A claim sure to infuriate many … Claire was to pose as the author’s wife. In addition, her boss, Bridger, added some extra reconnaissance for her to cover … which Claire suspected, (and hoped), would prove more exciting than posing as the cover wife. 

This was my first time reading (and listening to) a Dan Fesperman novel. That being said, I had no trouble getting into this tale of international espionage, and, staying with it, right to the end. I do not want to give away any spoilers. This is definitely a great read … for the beach … or literally, for anytime, anywhere. 

Thank you #netgalley and @knopfdoubleday for the digital book and @dreamscape_media for the #audiobook, which is perfectly narrated by the author, #danfesperman. 

#5⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ #thecoverwife
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A solid contribution to the thriller/spy genre that will be especially enjoyed by fans of the author. While the characters might not be particularly memorable, the story is engaging and will keep you turning pages. Thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy of this book.
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Claire Saylor is a career CIA operative based on Europe. Competent, but has a tendency to overstep her assignment and occasionally, that has gotten her in the doghouse. And she’s in the doghouse, or at least she thinks she is. We are in late 1999ish.

Claire has been given a crap assignment. Some US academic has published his take on the Koran based on his fluency with the actual language in which the Koran was originally written. She has to pose as his wife as he moves about the lecture circuit on this European tour and make sure no one make a move on him. Apparently, his translation doesn’t fit the modern narrative of Islam and some fanatics have been rumbling that this man probably needs to cease writing . . . permanently.

Mahmoud is the stereotype of the young man who is perfect for recruitment. Disillusioned, alone, trying to find his way, whatever that might be, in Hamburg. While not committed to Islam, he migrates to a mosque with a fairly radical Iman. Desperate to belong, he is drawn into a clique of more radicalized men. The longer he is drawn in, the more he comes to realize that something big is coming. Something huge.

In the meantime, Claire is becoming increasingly frustrated with her baby-sitting assignment. Especially with the more she learns about this guy. On one level, he’s a classic nerd. On another level, he seems like a lousy actor playing a part.

The deeper Mahmoud gets in with this group of guys, the more involved become his assignments. He sees them as tests that will get him something truly meaningful. How Mahmoud’s descent into radicalized thought intersects with Claire’s cover as a wife is the crux of the story. Don’t expect me to present any spoilers. And the spoiler in this story is a whopper that lovers of spy stories won’t want to miss.

Fesperman is a prolific author of classic spy novels. We hear at MRB have reviewed favorably 8 earlier books of his. His earlier books were all excellent. But the spoiler in this one is a doozy and, for me, that alone puts this at the top of the Fesperman books we’ve reviewed.

You like spy books? This one’s for you. Don’t pass this one up.

Available July 6, 2021
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The Cover Wife feels very much like the political thrillers of the Tom Clancy sort, and while it definitely follows the slow burn nature of a Clancy novel, it manages to do so more quickly - which is a good thing. The story is told from multiple perspectives, the primary being Claire, an agent based in Paris that is sent to Hamburg, Germany on assignment as the wife of an author of a book that is likely to inflame members of Al-Qaeda. But Claire isn't being told everything by her team or her handler, as she discovers on her side mission to observe an report on a group of young Muslim men that includes Mahmoud. The reader also hears the story from his perspective, as a young man with an American mother and a Moroccan father that is trying to be accepted into the group that runs into the speed bump of a fellow acolyte's wife, who makes him question the choices he's making. The final perspective is from another alphabet agent, the rounds out the story and helps makes the reader question just beneficial it is to have multiple agencies working with or against each other in "America's" attempts to root out terrorism, occasionally to devastating effect. This book is not necessarily for someone who's looking for a page-turning thriller, but if you enjoy the slow build-up to a complicated story this is a great book to dive into.
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When CIA agent Claire Saylor is called on by former handler Paul Bridger to join a special team in Hamburg, she is hopeful it will be more than babysitting.  She is to be the undercover wife of Professor Winston Armitage, who will be speaking on his controversial theories on the Quran and the 72 virgins.  However the more involved she becomes in this cover story,the more suspicious she becomes of her actual purpose there.  Investigating on her own, she follows a group of possible Islamic terrorists and this suspense thriller really gets going!  It is full of supposition concerning the 9/11 attacks and what occurred years prior.  Definitely a taunt story carrying the reader along.  Fesperman at his best. 
Thank you to NetGalley, PenguinRandomhouse and Dan Fesperman for the arc.
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I love novels that take off from real events and real people and spin them into memorable works of speculative fiction. The premise here is wonderful, creative and inventive, but the working out of that premise is a little less wonderful.

I've always been a Festerman fan. You wouldn't call him a prose stylist, but his writing is solid and serves his subject matter well by being relatively unadorned. Even by his own standards, however, the prose here was flat and often edged close to being downright dull. I found it tough to stay in the moment with the book and often caught myself skimming ahead looking for the next bit of writing that grabbed me. It pains me to say this, but those bits were few and far between.

A brilliant premise, good plotting, less than memorable characters and setting, and often flat prose. All in all, I have to say THE COVER WIFE falls far short of the standard Dan Festerman has previously set for himself.
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I love a good spy novel!  Dan Fesperman is, in my opinion, one of the best in the spy genre, and The Cover Wife kept me entertained (and guessing) from page one until the end.
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Fesperman can always be counted on for a solid, fast-moving, well-developed story. In this case, a seasoned if somewhat independent-minded spy is assigned to play the role of the wife of an academic who has written a scholarly book that has scandalized fundamentalist Muslims and delighted people who don't like Muslims. She is meant to provide protection as he speaks at a conference of Near Eastern scholars and to the press in Germany.  Things, of course, go wrong and characters turn out to be not quite who they seem. The time frame for the story is the late 1990s, just as Al Qaeda is preparing a world-shaking attack on the Western world.

In addition to being a good yarn, full of switchbacks and surprises, it's a nicely-drawn portrait of an intelligence community that has all the resources it needs but is too busy with infighting and lack of cultural competence to carry out their work  successfully. There's also a cameo appearance of a character from Safe Houses. 

I think The Prison of Guantanamo was the first time I discovered Fesperman. He continues to write smart and fast-moving books that avoid glamorizing espionage while thrusting readers into the midst of a well-resourced but flawed world of competing intelligence operations.
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The novel takes place during a more innocent period for the world when the American CIA had already spread it's tendrils to perceived danger spots around the world.  A point that saw employees of that organization vying for choice assignments in order to advance their careers. Enemies included the Soviet Union and left over Nazis that were still being sought to punish for their wartime crimes.
     Claire is one of the employees looking to handle the type of assignment that will allow her career to sprout wings.  She has been an employee for some time and just needs the correct leverage to move ahead.  She is approached by a previous supervisor of hers to help with an assignment and considers it a good opportunity.  Her assignment is to pose as the wife of an author who is planning on delivering a speech about a book he wrote. The theme of the book is an interpretation of the Koran's opinion of the place for martyrs in the religion and the idea as expressed does not sit well with the Muslim world.  Claire takes on the assignment, but at the same time a group of young Islamic extremists loyal to Osama ben Ladin is forming in Hamburg, Germany where the speech will be given.
     Mr. Fesperman has researched the political environment of the world during the time he is writing about and the conflict between Claire's world and that of the extremists is well delineated. The consequences of the actions of both groups is logical given the period involved and the motivations of each.  Where it ends up is more than a little surprise but is right on with the actions of the two groups involved with the events depicted.
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Oh I love spy thrillers.  This book is delectable.  It only took me about an hour or so to read it and I was absolutely hooked.  I highly recommend.
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