The Amateur Spy

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-03-10
  • Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
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The Amateur Spyrecasts the spy novel for the post-9/11 worldanyone might be watching, everyone is suspect. Freeman Lockhart, a humanitarian aid worker and his Bosnian wife have just retired to a charming house on a Greek island. On their first night, violent intruders blackmail Freeman into spying on an old Palestinian friend living in Jordan. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a Palestinian-American named Aliyah Rahim is worried about her husband, who blames their daughter's death on the U.S. anti-terror policies. Aliyah learns that he is plotting a cataclysmic act of revenge; in a desperate effort to stop him, she flies to Jordan to meet her husband's co-conspirators. There she encounters Freeman neck-deep in his own investigation. As their paths intertwine, the story rises to its fast-paced, explosive climax. From the Trade Paperback edition.

Author Biography

Dan Fesperman is a reporter for the Baltimore Sun and worked in its Berlin bureau during the years of civil war in the former Yugoslavia, as well as in Afghanistan during the recent conflict. His novel Lie in the Dark won the Crime Writers' Association of Britain's John Creasey Memorial Dagger Award for best first crime novel and The Small Boat of Great Sorrows won their Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for best thriller.


At our end of the island, far from any noisy taverna or buzzing scooter, two owls hold a nightly conversation in the treetops by the sea. They start around midnight, hooting back and forth like village gossips while the landscape stands at attention. The only interruption is the slap and sigh of the Aegean, a timeless incantation that seems to whisper of myth and fallen heroes.

I like to imagine the owls are offering a sort of predator hotline, with frequent updates on the whereabouts of targets in the shadows below. After all, they’re the professionals at that sort of business. Maybe that’s why I was listening so closely on the night in question. Break their code and I’d learn which creatures were at risk–Freeman Lockhart, power broker of the local animal kingdom, beneficent warlord of meadow and brook.

Obviously I failed. Because nothing in their tone caused me the slightest alarm, yet shortly after the hooting stopped, three predators in gray tracksuits crept into our bedroom, and later I realized that every creature but me must have detected a warning. Even Mila, shivering at my side until they took me away, bruised and bleeding, had noticed the fellows earlier that day on the ferry from Piraeus.

My only vivid memory of our ocean passage was of Mila herself as she prepared to vomit from the stern. She wasn’t prone to seasickness, but there she stood, hands braced against the rail in a swirl of briny mist while gulls hovered just above, awaiting the spoils. Her face was pale, accentuating the underfed look of her sharp features and high cheekbones. She looked as vulnerable as a stowaway, so I took her gently by the shoulders in hopes of steadying her with a little warmth.

“Must be the excitement,” she gasped, still holding it inside.

“Probably,” I answered, although I suspected trepidation was more to blame. This voyage was our running start to a long-planned leap of faith, our grand exit to a new life. Having given up on the world at large, we had decided to finally get everything right by going it alone. Stakes like those might make anyone queasy.

We had been at sea for several hours, among fifty or so passengers on one of the few remaining smaller boats–or caïques–that still ply these waters. Most people make the crossing to Karos in half the time, on one of the huge hydroplane “fast boats.” But Mila and I share an aversion for their towering hulls, wide-body cabins, and churning speed. They are as coldly efficient as 747s. Being a firm believer in clean getaways, I am also unsettled by their tremendous wakes, mile-long stripes of foam across the sea, pointing a giant arrow at your route of escape.

Besides, when you’re going somewhere for the duration, you want to be attuned to the passing of every mile. So we opted for the smaller, slower sort of boat we had taken on our first trip to Karos, three years earlier. What we hadn’t counted on was the bluster of early autumn, which soon built the Aegean into ten-foot waves as the deck heaved
beneath us.

After a few minutes of unproductive gagging, Mila finally cut loose. The waiting gulls cried sharply in triumph, yellow beaks plucking at her discharge as it streamed toward the foaming water. They fought noisily over the bounty.

“You okay?” I asked, massaging her back.


She barely got the word out. Then she pushed away my hand and thrust her face back toward the water. I made my exit toward the bow, not for lack of empathy but because of the memories she had stirred. The transaction with the gulls reminded me uncomfortably of our recent profession and all its shortcomings. Until a week ago, Mila and I were aid workers for the United Nations, acting as glorified caterers to the world’s wars, famines, and disasters. Most recently we had supervised feeding centers, handing

Excerpted from The Amateur Spy by Dan Fesperman
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