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September 24, 2021

George Ernsberger
Posted 9/24/21

First Casualty: The Untold Story of the CIA Mission to Avenge 9/11 by Toby Harnden (Little, Brown).

“In war, the first casualty is the plan,” sounds like an expression of hopelessness; …

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September 24, 2021

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First Casualty: The Untold Story of the CIA Mission to Avenge 9/11 by Toby Harnden (Little, Brown).

“In war, the first casualty is the plan,” sounds like an expression of hopelessness; but not so. It’s the kind of realism that, faced bravely, makes much of the real fighting that we did for a generation or so in Afghanistan seem, if not exactly “worth it,” no less heroic for having accomplished so little in the long run. But the mission in the title is the specific one that found and killed Osama Bin Laden—one of our precious few great successes of that war, but a deep-running, genuine one. Books about our troubled history in that very alien land have been seen on bestseller lists, lately, and this one goes deeply into that country and culture and war, all in the process of telling the full story of this particular, unambiguously triumphant exploit. Harnden is clearly a great reporter, researcher, interviewer, observer, but also a great (yeah, I actually mean all these “greats”) storyteller. In stretches, you might be in the middle of one of the military-action thrillers of, say, Brad Thor or Dale Brown—there’s certainly no shortage of action, nor of real people to root for (and against, of course). But then, in other stretches, it’s the thoughtful political history that the column also recommends off and on (it’s that deeply intelligent, while it’s at it).

Her Perfect Life by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge).

This is the fourth straight standalone suspense novel from Ryan, after a couple of series. She’s always masterful, her style both lively and impeccable and the action never less than thrilling, but I for one especially welcome the standalones. She, for another, may well enjoy the variety they afford her as well as us readers. This new one is as good as she gets, and that’s as good anybody gets. Anybody.

The Heron’s Cry by Anne Cleeves (Minotaur).

Just the second of this new mystery series (Cleeves’ third series), a full two years after the first, The Long Call. The dustjacket calls it a “Matthew Venn” novel, and that’s true (and Venn’s personal life is more a factor in this novel than in the first). But her “books by” page calls this the “Two Rivers Series,” and that’s right, too; we’re already coming to know very well Venn’s North Devon (on England’s southwest coast, in spite of its name).

Left for Dead by Sean Parnell (Morrow).

Speaking of military thrillers, were we? This new novel really does move faster and really is a tad more purely entertaining than any nonfiction (and a lot of the fiction) I’ve come across lately. Full of combat violence and combat talk that’s convincingly authentic (uh—authentic-sounding, at least—I mean, really, would I know?) but never leaves us wondering. This is his fourth, featuring the same swashbuckling lead warrior. Much of the action is in the wildest, western part of China.

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