The Silent Man Review
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It seems as though Islamic terrorists are all the rage these days. You can find them everywhere from world news reports to the corner newsstand. And while I realize that the threat it out there—and it’s very, very real—after reading yet another book about blood-thirsty Islamic fundamentalists, I think it’s about time I traded in my spy thrillers for some nice, fluffy chick lit.

Throughout his career, CIA agent John Wells has traveled around the world to battle unseen enemies whose threats never reach the evening news. His deadly missions still haunt his dreams, but he knows that there’s nothing he can do about it. There’s no way he could ever walk away—not even if it means losing Jennifer Exley, his colleague and the love of his life.

The dangers become even more real, however, when Wells and Exley are attacked on their way to work one morning, leaving Exley in critical condition. Wells is convinced that he knows who’s responsible—and though he’s told to stay out of the investigation, nothing can stop him from getting revenge.

But as Wells tracks his attackers to Europe, he finds himself tangled in an even more important investigation. Some sort of nuclear materials have gone missing from a facility in Russia, and the Islamic terrorists involved are gearing up for an attack that’s sure to leave the US critically wounded.

The Silent Man, the third John Wells novel by The New York Times reporter Berenson, is a haunting thriller. In fact, it’s so detailed that it often feels frighteningly real. Unfortunately, though, those vivid details are also the book’s key downfall—because Berenson goes so in-depth that the book sometimes feels more like a bomb-building manual than a high-energy spy thriller.

Maybe I’ve just been reading too many books about terrorists lately; after all, I picked up The Silent Man immediately after finishing Rick Mofina’s Six Seconds. But it’s starting to feel old-hat. For the most part, the characters are all the same, with the same back story: they lost someone they love, and (no matter who was actually responsible) they blame the Americans. All they care about is revenge, and their only emotion is hate. This time around, there’s one small exception—but it’s just not enough to make their storyline interesting. While I can appreciate the research that clearly went into writing such a detailed scientific description of their plan, it slows the action and suspense almost to a halt. And, as a result, whenever I started a chapter about the terrorists, I was tempted to skip ahead to the next chapter.

Wells, on the other hand, has more depth. He’s caring but conflicted, struggling to balance his job, his ego, and his fiancée. He’d love to walk away and live a normal life with Exley, but he knows that his responsibility to his country will always be his top priority. He’s a solidly-developed character—and, whenever the story follows him, it flies along at break-neck speed.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t always follow Wells, making The Silent Man a book of stops and starts. Sometimes, it’s thrilling—but, at other times, it’ll make you feel like you’ve been forced to sit through a high-level engineering class.

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