Title:                      The Black Tulip

Author:                 Milt Bearden

Bearden, Milt (1998). The Black Tulip: A Novel of War in Afghanistan. New York: Random House

LCCN:    97037224

PS3552.E172 B58 1998


Date Updated:  April 14, 2015

In this novel, the craft of espionage, and the political clout needed to keep afloat in the game, are bared in ex-agent Bearden’s promising debut, a valentine to late CIA director Bill Casey set in the late 1980s during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Hounded by eager mole-hunter Graham Middleton, Russian-born American agent Alexander Fannin opts out of the Agency, but Casey enlists him to freelance as his cat’s paw in Afghanistan, supplying the mujahideen and planning sorties against the Russians. Capture of a Russian general’s son pits Fannin against his KGB counterpart Anatoly Klimenko, coincidentally a cousin, who decides to defect and helps Fannin speed Russia’s exit from Afghanistan barely a tense step ahead of a KGB official with a grudge against Klimenko. Bearden soft-pedals the horrors of the war and concentrates on the stringpullers from both sides as KGB and CIA field agents dodge each other and their own hierarchies as they maneuver Afghan and Russian pawns to win the game. Deft twists and battle scenes, crisply lucid technical details, hair-trigger tension and strong characters drive the plot, but the too-sparse dialogue slows the read. Still, the mechanics of Cold War espionage have seldom been so tangible.

The Black Tulip is a fast-paced thriller, based on real events, by the legendary spy who masterminded the plot to arm Afghan freedom fighters in their holy war against the Soviets. A longtime veteran of the CIA, Bearden knows the tricks of the trade, the price of honor, the bonds of blood, and the enduring lure of retribution.


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