Book review: Bloodmoney - spy games

Published: July 17, 2011

WASHINGTON: At his book launch in Washington, DC, David Ignatius had to repeatedly deny, in good humour and faith, that he could foresee the future. Reading Bloodmoney, his latest spy thriller set primarily in Pakistan, one wonders if Ignatius really does have a crystal ball in his basement. That, or perhaps even the most far-fetched fictional plot lines can become reality in this country.

Bloodmoney begins with the vivid description of a drone strike, and from its ashes, rises the survivor: Omar, from Makeen. The other characters, like the ISI chief General Malik, and the fictional members of the CIA — Jeffrey Gertz, Sophie Marx, Cyril Hoffman — make for fascinating reading. Ignatius manages to grab the attention of the reader quite early on when he describes the fate of the CIA operative Howard Egan, and the sequence of incidents that seems to mirror to some extent the events of the Raymond Davis affair in Lahore earlier this year.

Even though fictional, Bloodmoney details the double and, in some instances, triple-crossing games that both countries have been playing. From the Pakistani side, that involves maintaining links with militants to garner intelligence. The US sends in agents for covert activities that even the CIA station chief is unaware of. Mixed in with this is how the CIA funds its covert operations, a subject that Ignatius had said he had been interested in, considering the organisation’s budget is secret and taking care of agents is a costly affair.

Despite a motley crew of characters that are each more intriguing than the one before (“is General Malik a depiction of General Kayani?” being a thought that crosses one’s mind often), it is really Omar, the professor, that one is left wanting to know the most about. A victim of a drone strike, a Pathan, a professor, and, to put it simply, a genius.

Ignatius, who has visited Pakistan (including the tribal areas) before, has incorporated Pakistani idioms, curse words and cultural nuances in his novel, which adds immense value to the book. But while Bloodmoney has all the essential ingredients to give the reader a rollicking ride, Ignatius loses the plot at the end. The novel crashes towards its bloody denouement, with a conclusion so ludicrous that even fantasy novel writers would wrinkle their noses in distaste. For those who follow the US-Pakistan relationship, or even have a semblance of an idea of how the intelligence chiefs operate in either country, it appears to be a fairy-tale ending of the worst kind.

As a side note, Ignatius did say that he was going to send a copy of Bloodmoney to both General Kayani and General Pasha. One wonders what they think about the book at the GHQ.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, July 17th, 2011.

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