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Man in the Middle    by Brian Haig order for
Man in the Middle
by Brian Haig
Order:  USA  Can
Grand Central, 2009 (2007)
Hardcover, Paperback, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

A new Sean Drummond adventure was the perfect holiday treat for me, as I can always count on Brian Haig for a witty, entertaining puzzler that takes issue with the actions of career bureaucrats and officialdom, but always advocates for the ordinary man and woman - particularly those serving their country in uniform.

This time, we join Drummond, recently promoted to lieutenant colonel in the JAG Corps and still seconded to the CIA, at what appears to be a suicide scene. He's not the only kibitzer on site. A lovely lady, Vietnamese American Major Bian Tran of the Military Police Corps, has arrived before him, and quickly blows his cover as an FBI Special Agent. The corpse turns out to be that of a middle-aged male, career civil servant Clifford Daniels, who works for the Secretary of Defense and has a Top Secret security clearance. He's died in tawdry surroundings and in a humiliating pose, while watching a porn video.

Drummond quickly concludes that it's not suicide but murder (anomalies include a silencer on the gun). He and Major Tran take joint custody of the victim's briefcase, which turns out to include a portable computer, whose encyphered files - after the usual territorial wrangling - yield shocking information about Daniels' long-term relationship with an Iraqi, Mahmoud Charabi, being groomed for high office. It seems that Charabi provided what turned out to be false intelligence on the existence of weapons of mass destruction prior to the US invasion of Iraq, and traded in secrets with the Iranian intelligence service.

Follow up on this very dangerous information is required and Drummond's boss Phyllis Carney, 'an elderly lady with the looks and bearing of a fairy-tale grandmother and the avuncular temperament of the Big Bad Wolf', sends him to Baghdad along with Bian, and a team of private (ex-Special Forces) contractors. Their capture of a key terrorist is complicated by Saudi involvement and an intriguing closed-room mystery in a secret cellblock. Phyllis orders them to do what's best for their country, even though that requires ugly compromises which are 'necessary evils'. But, of course, it doesn't end there, as the author injects his usual last surprisingly knotted twists into a typically convoluted plot.

I enjoyed Man in the Middle very much. In it, Brian Haig makes the usual conspiracy theories seem way too simplistic, while giving his readers food for thought about the current geopolitical reality. Along the way, he reveals some of what I suspect are his own opinions, for example on the treatment of captured terrorists. Drummond does not consider them prisoners of war, but rather 'a conspiracy of assassins and mass murderers who obey no rules, who respect no boundaries, neither moral nor geographic, in an age when technology affords them the ability to really bring down the house. New games, new stakes - new rules.'

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