Title: Jack in the Box
Author: John Weisman
Weisman, John (2004). Jack in the Box: A Shadow War Thriller. New York: William Morrow
- Intelligence officers–Fiction.
- Espionage, Russian–Fiction.
- Moles (Spies)–Fiction.
Date Updated: March 16, 2015
In the highest reaches of the United States government, someone is betraying America’s secrets. Veteran CIA operative and former CIA Moscow station chief Sam Waterman has been cashiered for allowing his chief agent, Russian general Pavel Baranov, to be killed moments after showing Sam documents pointing to the existence of a mole at the highest levels of American government. Sam Waterman is drawn into an astonishing maze of deception when he is called on to debrief the legendary traitor Edward Lee Howard. The only CIA officer ever to defect to the KGB, Howard has decided to come home and come clean. Or has he? He makes the stunning allegation that American intelligence, distracted by the war on terror, has been penetrated by high-level moles. If true, the government and the intelligence community would be thrown into chaos. But before Waterman can verify any of it, Howard is found murdered. Desperate, Waterman scours his old haunts in Moscow, Paris, and Washington, D.C. As he delves deeper and begins to unravel a mind-bending conspiracy, his old friends — and old enemies — turn up dead. Through it all he begins to realize that the new CIA is nothing like the old, that truth is relative, and honor has become an afterthought.
Weisman, coauthor with Richard Marcinko of the Rogue Warrior series, continues his solo work after SOAR with this instructive novel of friendship and betrayal in the shadow world of modern espionage. The Russian’s death wasn’t Sam’s fault, but tell that to the gutless CIA bosses who have inherited control of that much-reduced agency.
After several years of retirement, Sam is taken by former protégé Michael O’Neill to the country house of U.S. senator T. Randall Arthur to confront Edward Lee Howard, a CIA officer who had defected to the KGB. Howard wants to come back home and claims he has evidence that proves the White House knew about al-Qaeda’s 9/11 plans seven weeks before these events occurred. When Sam decides to get tough with the defector, Howard flees, returns to Russia and is killed. The venue shifts back and forth between Moscow, Paris and Washington, DC, as Sam tries to sort out the good guys from the bad, indulge in a romantic relationship and save his own skin.
What sets this novel apart from other espionage thrillers is the density of spy lore. The pages are larded with footnotes, Russian words and phrases, references to historical cases, anecdotes, trade craft instruction and even blacked out words for added veracity. In the end, the identity of both the mole and Sam’s betrayer will surprise few veteran thriller readers, but seldom has there been a fictional look at the subject that packs in so much fascinating insider information while still maintaining an engrossing story line and interesting characters.