Off a quiet street in Brooklyn, New York, Israeli Special Forces commander Kohl Meir is captured by operatives of the Iranian secret service, who smuggle Meir back to Iran where he’s imprisoned, tortured and prepared for a show trial.
What they don’t know is that Meir was in New York to recruit Dewey Andreas for a secret operation. Meir had been tipped off that Iran had developed a nuclear bomb and was planning to use it to attack Israel. His proof was a photo of the bomb with the words “Goodbye Tel Aviv” written in Farsi.
Dewey Andreas, a former SEAL en Delta, owes his life to Meir and his team of Israeli commandos. Now to repay his debt, Dewey has to attempt the impossible—to rescue Meir from one of the world’s most secure prisons before he’s executed and to find and eliminate Iran’s nuclear bomb before it’s deployed. All without the help or sanction of Israel or America (or risk near certain detection by Iran before the plan is in place).
Unfortunately, Dewey’s first moves have caught the attention of Abu Paria, the brutal and brilliant head of VEVAK, the Iranian secret service. Now Dewey has to face off against, outwit and outfight, an opponent with equal cunning, skill and determination with the destruction of Israel’s largest city hanging in the balance.
Political shenanigans… I love them in my fantasy and a good conspiracy theory is always entertaining. Also Bond, James Bond or spies are cool. That’s why it’s surprising that I don’t read more political thrillers or spy novels. I guess you only have so much time (and resources) to devote to reading and it’s easy to gravitate to that which you know. So I was delighted when I was asked to review Ben Coes’ latest novel The Last Refuge, his third Dewey Andreas novel. Besides, with a main character called Dewey, the librarian in me couldn’t resist!
Dewey Andreas is a likeable character. He isn’t your regular Joe, being an ex-Delta operative and having just been rescued from captivity after assassinating the Pakistani President, but he’s accessible to the reader. And that’s a good thing, because – surprisingly, seeing how much I love Mark Lawrence, George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie – I had a hard time with the casual violence in this book. And it’s not just the bad guys who kill indiscriminately, Dewey gives as good as he gets. I found it shocking, perhaps because it’s set in the real world and not a secondary one – I can’t quite figure out why – but it troubled me more than it usually does. What scared me too was the description of the TLA agencies’ practices. I know this is fiction, but the agency practices described have to be based at least a little in fact and that is quite scary. I never imagined it was such a Wild West in terms of going off the grid and killing enemy operatives.
I found the sides very black and white. The other good guys with larger roles, Jessica, the National Security Advisor, and Calibrisi, the CIA director, are quite likeable as well. The real stars of the supporting characters list were Tacoma and Foxx who Dewey sources to help him run his rescue operation. I found their little set up a somewhat scary, they’re basically a privately funded covert operations firm, but I loved the interactions between them and, especially, Katie Foxx’s character. We see her in action, but we also see a little of her history in some of her scenes and I really liked the emotional depth this gave her. However, I found I didn’t connect to Kohl Meir as much as the author would have perhaps wished me too. On the one hand, he’s a very sympathetic character and obviously a political pawn, on the other hand, I found him a little too dogmatic. Similarly, the bad guys are just as dogmatic and stringent in their adherence to their political beliefs. In addition, they are portrayed as evil and having no regard for human life. This was especially true for Abu Paria, the main Iranian opponent we follow throughout the book. This man was really evil and had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I did appreciate the nuance the characters of Qassou and Taris brought, as I was afraid that Coes would paint all Iranians with the same dark brush. It kept the book from being populated exclusively by white hats and black hats, though overall the characters in The Last Refuge, while not cardboard, aren’t super well-rounded either. Then again, in a political thriller the plot is more important than knowing the deepest psychological motivations of your villain or even your hero.
Plot-wise The Last Refuge fulfils its promise: it’s action-packed and hard-hitting, with no observable plot holes or leaps of logic. Dewey’s reasons for going after Meir are understandable, even laudable, and the way he goes about it is intelligent and cunning. Coes also managed to tie everything together and delivered a satisfying ending, while leaving enough threads loose to tie into a new novel. Since this is a twisty-turny thriller, it’s hard to say more about the plot without spoiling the story, but suffice it to say Dewey has to roll with the punches.
I had issues with the book, with its callous executions of opponents and, at times, the political rhetoric of some of its protagonists, which hit very close to reality and thus were extra scary to read. I don’t know whether the things I disliked in the book are inherent to the genre or just this book; I haven’t read enough of it to judge. Despite the issues I had with it, the book kept me reading and entertained, which is what is should do. If you’re into political thrillers, The Last Refuge is a good one to pick up. Though the third in a series, it can easily be read as a standalone, but I’d recommend catching up with the other two as I suspect Dewey’s motivations would be more underpinned and clearer. Action-filled, exciting and clever, without pretending to be overly intellectual about it, The Last Refuge is the perfect summer read.
This book was provided for review by the author.
Ben has also been kind enough to provide a signed first edition of The Last Refuge to one of my readers. If you’d like to be in with a chance to win Ben Coes’ The Last Refuge, send an email with the subject THE LAST REFUGE to pallekenl [at] xs4all [dot] nl (or just click the little envelope on the right) with your name and your mailing address and I’ll have my husband randomly pick a winner. The giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY, but please, only one entry per person or you’ll be disqualified!
The competition will remain open till July 13th and I’ll announce the winner on the 14th.