x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The Secret Soldier by Alex Berenson

A fast-moving spy thriller set in Saudi Arabia

To read the lengthy legal note at the beginning of The Secret Soldier is to put yourself in a room of very worried lawyers. But it's worth pausing at this page - and it does occupy a full page - as it is the first clue that the author, a former New York Times reporter, aims to blend fact and fiction in a rather convincing way.

In short, this novel imagines King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia hiring a violence-prone CIA agent named John Wells, appearing for the fourth time in Berenson's fiction, to help him quell an insurrection within the House of Saud. But this is no anti-Muslim screed: Berenson cleverly makes Wells a convert to Islam and carefully allocates good and bad behaviour among East and West, Christian and Muslim.

Gulf residents will spot many familiar landmarks, but Berenson is less interested in using verisimilitude to be provocative than simply using the Middle East as the setting for a satisfying espionage thriller - that is to say, a fast-moving tale about a dangerous world and a few hard men who will stop at nothing to keep it safe.