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Author: Preston Fleming

Publisher: PF Publishing (July 27, 2011)

ASIN: B005EV84PS:    ISBN:-10: 0-982-95943-5  ISBN:-13: 978-0-98295-943-5

One principal difficulty in reviewing any spy novel is looking for a way to avoid comparing the new offering with what has come before. This is certainly true for books in the most firmly established of all espionage traditions—the realistic breed of fiction established by W. Somerset Maugham, Eric Ambler, and Graham Greene. Later, John Le Carre became the name around which every subsequent writer has been measured. Long after the Cold War novel became historic fiction, its hard not to find the Holy Trinity of Le Carre, Len Deighton, and Ian Fleming at least mentioned in passing in reviews of any contender seeking to be taken seriously.

So let’s state the obvious: Preston Fleming is very much in this tradition. Like his predecessors, he’s interested in creating verisimilitude by having his characters behave in believable ways using credible tools and resources. Like every spy author seeking to do more than divert and entertain us, Fleming’s spies are forced to evaluate their morality, especially when they see the consequences of their actions. So there are the external duels between “our side” and the other guys—and underneath are the questions about ethics, the cost of it all, and whether one can retain their humanity when everything around them seems to become more and more primal.

Such is the case of Conrad Prosser, a skilled CIA case officer stationed in Beirut in 1982. He’s adept in virtually every aspect of his craft except the one on which his promotion depends—recruiting a new asset. While worrying about his personal future, he’s driving around a city embroiled in a violent Civil War on nearly every street corner. His day-to-day duties include dodging rooftop snipers, car bombs, and racing through make-shift check-points manned by apparently anyone who can carry a gun. Despite the danger outside, Prosser also thrives in the social circuit of the political and business dignitaries who throw lavish parties while explosions rock the buildings around them.      

Making this complex setting vivid is one of the finest attributes of Dynamite Fishermen. The details and descriptions are so minute one suspects more than a hint of autobiography is going on. Indeed, at his website Fleming claims “I wrote my first two novels, both spy thrillers set in 1980s Beirut, to clear my head after eleven years of government work focused on the Middle East, most of which was in the Arab world.” While he doesn’t say it, “clearing his head” probably refers to the exploitation, responsibilities, and governmental policies of nations like Syria, Israel, and the U.S. that lead to the multi-pronged destruction of Lebanon. So Prosser’s own callousness and occasional twinges of conscience are in part a personal exploration while also being emblematic of the processes going on in the milieu in which he operates. By doing his job and turning in assigned reports, he could be responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians. By recruiting acquaintances he meets, he could be setting up their premature deaths as well while never knowing just who decided to act on what he uncovered.  

Dynamite Fisherman is the third novel in Fleming’s “Beirut Trilogy” which also includes Green Line Crossing and Bride of a Bygone War. As each apparently centers on different lead characters, one suspects the canvas is more important than the prism of whoever’s point-of-view is being played out. In Dynamite Fishermen, there’s no single adversary for Prosser to battle, no single plotline to follow, and he’s but one pawn who knows his time on this chessboard is limited. It’s Beirut as a whole in this time and place that’s more than memorable—Conrad Prosser is as much device as character. The results, I’d wager, would very much please Messrs. Maugham, Greene, etc. In some aspects, they might even be a tad envious.

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