Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Review: A Spy at Home by Joseph Rinaldo

A Spy at Home
by Joseph Rinaldo

Published: 2010

Synopsis: A retired CIA operative comes to believe he wasted his professional life not only promoting questionable American policies, but missing life with his family.

A Spy at Home is the spy story you rarely hear about. James Bond this isn't, there are no car chases, or nifty gadgets that looks like toothpaste but are really nuclear bombs, and there any steamy moments between the spy and the femme fatale. Instead this is the concluding chapter of that tale, or the less sexy older brother, if you will. After years of conscientious work for the CIA Garrison finds himself questioning his position in the CIA, and the CIA's position around the world, and decides to retire and spend more time with his wife (Louisa) and son (Noah). Of course, nothing is that easy, especially if you've spent a few decades helping set up coups in small countries in Africa.

Before retiring, Garrison sneakily betrays the faction he's been helping by keeping the 9.5 million he was supposed to supply them. Their stupidity and inability to prepare a decent plan for getting at the dictator made it fairly clear to Garrison that they wouldn't survive the attack, and the millions of dollars would sit in an account being wasted. A few transfers between Swiss banks and the money is safely his to retire on. As I'm sure you can imagine, managing millions of stolen dollars adds a level of stress that most people's retirement doesn't have. Not only do they have to be careful in the way spend or transfer the money, but an added threat  pops up several years later when the faction leader's brother questions where the money is, and a hacker starts attacking the CIA servers looking for information about Garrison.

While the money aspect adds a more traditional spy/thriller to the story, the heart of the novel is Garrison's family. The story is told first-person as he looks back at the events of his life and the consequences his actions wrought. It's very confessional in tone, and reads like someone sitting in their therapist's room, trying to make sense of where they are now, and what they used to have. While the majority of the story takes place after the money has been stolen, there are also flashbacks further to when they first met, when they adopted their son, etc. Their family life was never conventional, but having a husband/father for a spy tends to do that! Their son, Noah, was adopted thanks to rather extraordinary circumstances (I'll leave that to you to discover) and due to his Downs Syndrome presented a less than ordinary upbringing. Raising a child is difficult in itself, but raising a son with Downs Syndrome while the husband is away for months on end and the wife has to maintain a full time job?  The trials and tribulations that this family goes through, the arguments, the fear, the happiness, the sacrifice, it's all documented in this story. They aren't perfect people (even if Garrison thinks of Louisa as perfect) but their efforts and self-sacrifice is commendable.

The story wasn't what I was expecting at all, but I guess that's what you get for judging a book by it's title! It isn't a spy thriller, even if there are those elements within the book. I actually found those elements perhaps the weakest part of the story. The story of the family and the way they tackle their various issues is extremely well done, but the stories involving the CIA, though interesting, felt unfinished. Though this may be because of the way the book concluded (no spoilers!), but there were a couple side stories, like the hacker, which featured fairly prominently that just fizzled out. The book isn't perfect, as well as the slight issue with the B stories, I did find myself tripping up over the occasional missed particle, or awkwardly worded sentence. While it could definitely do with another edit, I found that these issues didn't really bug me at all, or at least not as much as I'd expect them too. When I was talking to Tom about the book, I found myself describing the characters (Louisa especially) as though they were actual people, and I think that trumps a handful of missed particles.

A Spy at Home is a unique approach to the spy story, and while there were definite flaws, the use of the family as the heart and soul of this story won me over in the end.


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