Review: After a collection of sensitive videotapes are stolen from the US government, and held for ransom — $100,000,000 in diamonds else they're posted online — undercover operative Ben Treven is assigned to retrieve them in Barry Eisler's political thriller Inside Out.
The videotapes are of sessions in which US interrogators tortured prisoners taken in the war on terror. All the "alphabet" agencies (FBI, CIA, NSA, etc.) are scrambling their own agents to recover them — and of course, no one agency is cooperating with any other — with the JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) tapping Ben. It turns out this is prescient move as the person who took the tapes is former JSOC operative Daniel Larison — a man everyone presumed dead, killed years earlier while on a clandestine operation in Pakistan. Ben follows Larison's trail to Costa Rica, and even though they've never met, each man has similar training and skills, giving neither an advantage over the other. It quickly becomes a deadly game of cat-and-mouse to determine which of the two men will prevail over the other.
The plot is simplicity itself and Eisler doesn't break any new ground with it, yet Inside Out is a nonstop thrill of a ride. The character of Ben Treven was prominently featured in the author's previous novel, Fault Line, but in a somewhat secondary role. Here, he's the lead character (and the final paragraph suggests it's not his last adventure), so this may be a series in the making. Another of Eisler's series characters, John Rain, is mentioned a couple of times as well, though he doesn't make an appearance. It seems likely Ben and Rain will meet up at some point in a future novel … which should prove interesting, to say the least! The plot races forward — pausing ever so briefly for a rather silly romantic interlude between Ben and an FBI agent — and then Ben and Larison meet. The dynamic between them is electric, the outcome uncertain. It's all exceedingly well done. Until ...
... the exceedingly flawed ending. The storyline essentially concludes at about the 300 page mark, but is then succeeded by a long, divisive, politically partisan State of the Union message. True, it's given by one of the book's characters … but it really isn't. Eisler follows this lecture with pages and pages of references to support his assertions and arguments. Whether one agrees or disagrees with what is presented as fact is not the point; what is, is how it is incongruously included in a fictional context, appended to the end of an otherwise highly entertaining suspense novel, when it should have been framed as an afterward or better yet, omitted entirely. It's fine to have a political slant to a plot, but at the very least be creative and make it interesting. And to be fair, elsewhere in the book, Eisler's points are unambiguously made in a proper, contextual manner that doesn't detract from the overall story arc. But in the last 20 pages or so, his political point of view is tendered with such graceless brute force that all one gets from it is a steep crashing dive from what was only a few pages earlier a thriller high.
Acknowledgment: Random House provided a copy of Inside Out for this review.
Review Copyright © 2010 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Ballantine (Hardcover), March 2009
ISBN-13: 9780345505088; ISBN-10: 0345505085
Location(s) referenced in Inside Out: Washington DC, Costa Rica
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Inside Out by Barry Eisler
Publication Date: June 2010
List Price: $25.00