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Bookmarks Issue: 
25-Nov-Dec-2006
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A-Prisoner of GuantanamoThe Prisoner of Guantánamo is the fourth thriller penned by Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Fesperman, whose books often take place within the setting of war. His protagonist in his latest book is Arabic-speaking FBI agent Revere Falk, who travels to the notorious U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to interrogate a suspected Yemeni terrorist. When a U.S. sergeant turns up dead on the Cuban side of the fence, Falk stumbles onto a conspiracy that may link the war on terror with the Cold War. Soon, he finds his investigation complicated by a mistake he made 12 years earlier as a Marine stationed at Gitmo.
Knopf. 336 pages. $24. ISBN: 1400044669

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"This is fiction supported by fact, and the result is a critical look at both the treatment of ‘enemy combatants’ and the disingenuous ways we create our wars. … No one is trustworthy in this page-turning thriller, and perhaps that is Fesperman’s greater point." Stephen Lyons

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s a superb spy thriller worthy of sharing shelf space with the novels of John le Carré and Ken Follett. … Falk is the classic flawed hero." Carol Memmott

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Fesperman … allows the history and current controversy involving Guantánamo to come alive in ways that news accounts have failed to do. Although novels germinate in a writer’s imagination, the research Fesperman must have conducted to give this book its verisimilitude can only be described as awesome." Steve Weinberg

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"Even though the pace sometimes flags, Fesperman,… gives us a highly detailed and useful picture of Gitmo and its denizens: the pervasive military infrastructure that determines the daily rhythms of life, the daily turf battles between the competing interrogation teams and their acronym-laden sponsors … and the always looming presence of Fidel Castro’s Cuba." Peter Earnest

Miami Herald 2 of 5 Stars
"The Prisoner of Guantánamo offers a detailed look at this most gung-ho of places. But Fesperman’s plot is too by the numbers; he weaves a patchwork of familiar scenarios and improbable contrivances that will disappoint discerning readers." Ariel Gonzalez

Philadelphia Inquirer 1 of 5 Stars
"The Prisoner of Guantánamo is neither literary nor thrilling, and Fesperman’s attempt to straddle the two worlds seems fated to disappoint both reading constituencies. Literary types will find the book formulaic, labored, melodramatic, and often overwritten—in short, a movie-to-be. Genre fans, understandably eager for the thrills supplied by movies and television, will reach for the remote control." Patrick Kurp

Critical Summary

Dan Fesperman, who researched hundreds of documents and visited Gitmo in 2003, definitely did his homework, and it paid off. Critics uniformly praised the meticulous research that allowed the writer to paint a vivid picture of life at Guantánamo Bay, the United States’ troubled history with Cuba, and some of the moral quandaries the U.S. faces in its war on terror. That’s the good part. However, as a thriller, many reviewers felt Prisoner came out short; they complained about hackneyed, spy-thriller clichés and an anticlimactic ending. And some of the same critics who enjoyed Fesperman’s journalistic perspective would have liked to have seen him delve more deeply into the controversy surrounding the military’s interrogation techniques at the detention center. So the book is topical but not topical enough and a thriller that’s not quite thrilling.