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Blow the House Down    by Robert Baer order for
Blow the House Down
by Robert Baer
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2006 (2006)
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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

It shows that Robert Baer, author of the memoir See No Evil and now Blow the House Down, knows of what he writes. A twenty year veteran of the CIA's Directorate of Operations, he covers the spy vs. spy territory with smooth mastery, teaching the reader a few things about surveillance, hiding information in Internet images, and going off the grid along the way.

In this second novel, Baer writes of events leading up to 9/11, and portrays a significant Iran connection. His hero, 'lone wolf' Max Waller, is a CIA veteran who has long followed an elusive trail, seeking the truth of the death of station chief Bill Buckley, kidnapped in Beirut. Serendipitously it seems, Max stumbles on a connection between Osama bin Laden and Iran, in a photo discovered in the Langley Archives. He gives a copy to John Millis, an ex-colleague who is now House Intelligence Committee chief of staff.

Millis soon dies in what appears to be a suicide, and Waller is followed, framed on spurious charges, and kicked out of the Agency. Max turns to an old friend. Retired from the intelligence community, Frank Beckman has milked his Gulf contacts to make his fortune. He advises Max that 'People prefer a bad case of clap to the truth' but helps him nonetheless. Max exploits his own contacts carefully, including his longstanding friendship with FBI Special Agent John O'Neill and a debt owed by an ex-Soviet agent.

The reader is introduced to a rather stereotypically egoistic billionaire bad guy. The trail of the curious photo takes Waller to France, Italy, Cyprus, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Switzerland. Max travels by air, boat, taxi and skis. A Gulf prince warns him of a plot to blow up airplanes and exploit the stock market, and Beckman's lovely daughter India (also a CIA agent) shows up with a disturbing story. There are more deaths, and our hero finally confronts the villain - 'You just want to blow the house down so you can pick up the pieces.'

Through Max Waller, Robert Baer tells us that 'In espionage, the hard part isn't connecting the dots; it's figuring out what is a dot and what isn't.' His Author's Note at the end explores some of the facts underlying his fiction, speculates on the Iran connection, and on the role of power and money. I enjoyed his fictional take on events very much and Blow the House Down's author is now on my short list of must read espionage writers.

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