Thursday, March 9, 2023

The Cover Wife: Dan Fesperman


This is the second book in an espionage series by Dan Fesperman. The main character in this book is Claire Saylor, a CIA agent stationed in Paris who is sent to Hamburg, Germany to pose as the wife of an academic who has published a controversial book about writings in the Quran. The story is set in Hamburg, Germany and begins in 1999. Claire is in her early forties.

The story is told from the perspective of three people:  Claire; Mahmoud, a young man with an American mother and a Moroccan father who wants to be accepted into an Al Qaeda cell in Hamburg; and Ken Donlan, an FBI agent who liaises with the CIA and has been sent to surveil specific members of the cell. 

What I liked:

  • The characters are drawn very well, especially the main characters. And they are all likable; I cared about them. That helps a lot when reading a book. 
  • I like stories told from multiple perspectives and that works especially well here. More knowledge is shared earlier in the book, yet the suspense is maintained.
  • The spy fiction writers I prefer place the emphasis on characters and how the work affects them, over action, violence, and chase scenes. Dan Fesperman's stories have a slow build up to the final events. There is tension, but the story doesn't bounce all over the place. 
  • The Claire Saylor series features strong female characters -- agents who are capable and want to do more but often get sidelined because of their sex. The first book in the series, Safe Houses, featured a different female agent stationed in West Berlin, Germany, in her early twenties, whose main assignment is overseeing the safehouses in the city. She accidentally overhears a dangerous conversation which leads to her death many years later. In that book Claire Saylor, also early in her career with the CIA,  doesn't show up until the last third of the book, but she has an important role, and the two agents form a lifetime bond.

Spy fiction is one of my favorite subgenres and this was a very engrossing read. I will definitely be reading the third book in the series, which returns to an earlier time in Claire's career.


Publisher:  Vintage Crime / Black Lizard, 2022 (orig. pub. 2021)
Length:   321 pages
Format:   Trade paperback
Series:    Claire Saylor, #2
Setting:   Germany
Genre:    Spy fiction
Source:   I purchased my copy in 2022.


Kathy's Corner said...

Hi Tracy, this book sounds really good. I am not on the whole a fan of spy fiction because as you say I want books where character and the story take the lead and a book with too much action, violence car chases etc is not for me. But the Cover Wife sounds different and I should give it a try. One amazing book I read years ago The Revolutiinist by Robert Littel is worth checking out. He also has written spy novels.

TracyK said...

Kathy, I hope that you do enjoy the book if you give it a try. In my opinion, of the books by Dan Fesperman that I have read, all of them are more about story and character than thrills.

Thanks for the recommendation on The Revolutionist by Robert Littell. I looked it up and it does sound very good. I will have to look for a copy.

I do have quite a few books by Littell but I have not read a lot of them. But the ones I have read were very good, Legends and one of his early books, The Defection of A.J. Lewinter.

Margot Kinberg said...

I'm not as well-versed in spy/espionage fiction as you are Tracy, but I agree that character development is a really important aspect of a great spy-fi story. The action isn't as interesting, and doesn't keep me as engrossed, if the focus is just on the plot. Claire sounds like an interesting character.

TracyK said...

Margot, I thought about this series when you posted on International Women’s Day two days ago. The female characters in this series help each other out.

Lark said...

This does sound like a good one! I especially like that Claire is such a strong character.

TracyK said...

The first book in the series, Safe Houses, is very different from this one, at least in structure, and the two books work well together. But either can be read as a standalone and take place in twenty years apart.

Cath said...

I'm with you and Margot in that I prefer character development to non-stop action. I've never been that into spy thrillers but I would like to try something that was more female based and thoughtful rather than too 'James Bond-ish', if you know what I mean. This might be just the thing.

TracyK said...

Cath, the author of this book, Dan Fesperman, gives credit to Francine Mathews (AKA Stephanie Barron, author of the Jane Austen Mysteries) for providing information about what it was like to be a female employee of the CIA in 1979, which is when the first book in the series, Safe Houses, takes place (or a good portion of the book). Both books are a good picture of females agents in the CIA, pre-2000.

Bill Selnes said...

I have to read more Fesperman. He is such a good writer.

TracyK said...

A agree, Bill. I have a few more books by him on my shelves that I haven't read yet and I look forward to reading them.

CLM said...

I like the sound of this series! I will check my library for the first book.

TracyK said...

Constance, I enjoyed the first two books and have also liked others by this author. His writing has not disappointed me yet.