cover image The Cover Wife

The Cover Wife

Dan Fesperman. Knopf, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-525-65783-5

Set in 1999, this gripping if uneven spy thriller from Fesperman (Safe Houses) fictionalizes the story of the terrorist cell in Hamburg, Germany, responsible for the 9/11 attacks. CIA agent Claire Saylor goes undercover, posing as the wife of an academic with an explosive new interpretation of the Koran launching a book at an event in Hamburg. But Saylor’s real job is to understand what the terrorist cell is up to—and she soon discovers other American agents are focused on the same group of Islamists. A parallel plot focused on Mahmoud Yassin, an Arab youth who becomes radicalized and joins the cell, raises the tension. Identities and motives are tantalizingly muddled, and Fesperman, a fine stylist, does a good job portraying the elusive, frustrating nature of espionage, but Saylor, more pawn than leader, doesn’t seem to be the narrative’s obvious fulcrum, and the suspense is undercut by the knowledge that the Hamburg cell succeeded in its mission. With the 20th anniversary of 9/11 looming, this solid effort is worth a look. Agent: Ann Rittenberg, Ann Rittenberg Literary. (July)