'Jericho's Fall': A dying CIA man's final reckoning
Author and Yale Law School professor Stephen L. Carter returns with the thriller "Jericho's Fall," a simmering page-turner about a disgraced CIA director whose final days are haunted by ghosts of his romantic and spy-chasing past.
Special to The Seattle Times
by Stephen L. Carter
Knopf, 352 pp., $25.95
Something's just not right at the Colorado mountain retreat that serves as the menacing backdrop for the latest thriller by Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter, "Jericho's Fall," a simmering page-turner about the murky underbelly of intelligence and finance that has "Morgan Freeman movie blockbuster" written all over it.
There's intrigue. There's betrayal. There's doomed romance. Of course there are secret documents stashed in plain envelopes, along with plenty of morally ambiguous schemers who have a stake in keeping those potentially devastating papers under wraps. All the key ingredients are there for an excellent suspense novel, for sure, but Carter ("The Emperor of Ocean Park") dishes up a story that's not quite an A+ effort.
The Jericho of the title is the disgraced ex-CIA director, investment consultant and Princeton University professor Jericho Ainsley, who for most of this carefully paced novel lies dying in a secluded compound high above the until-now sleepy Rocky Mountain town of Bethel.
His two grown daughters, the cranky Pamela and the nunlike Audrey, who is in fact an Episcopal nun, dutifully attend to the needs of their increasingly paranoid dad, who believes somebody from his past is out to get him.
They think he's simply losing his mind as cancer wracks his body. He's led such a full, exciting life it's not entirely surprising that things get jumbled in his psyche.
As a close counselor to presidents, spy masters and business tycoons alike over several decades, Ainsley's had lots of exploits and made plenty of loyal friends and potential enemies.
But the riskiest adventure was taking up with a willful 19-year-old student while teaching at Princeton, Rebecca DeForde. The resulting scandal wrecked his career, ruined his marriage and tarnished his image in intelligence and academic circles. For a while, DeForde was his rock, the only person in the world he wanted to be with. She dropped out of Princeton to be with him.
For 18 months, they holed up together at this very mountain refuge, isolated from the world and its harsh judgment. But it was a rocky May-December romance. DeForde broke things off.
What really perturbs Ainsley's daughters, then, is his deathbed request to invite DeForde back to the compound for what could be their final visit.
Obviously resentful of DeForde, now a divorced single mom working a meaningless job in the D.C-area, they extend her a chilly welcome. It doesn't help that as soon as she arrives, all hell starts breaking loose, with mysterious helicopters buzzing the skies overhead, old colleagues paying visits, trespassers sneaking onto the property and a dog with his brains blown out dumped in the driveway.
Ainsley might be right after all. Somebody is trying to send a message. But who?
Are corrupt CIA officials worried that Ainsley will reveal inside information that could damage the agency? Are his former investment cronies worried he'll squeal about the shady way they made money? Has he summoned his former mistress to aid in his plans?
In this deliberately convoluted tale, it's hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Everybody, even the town librarian and the cops, seems to have a back story. And that makes the cinematic conclusion all the more intense and, sad to say, somewhat predictable with its Aha! revelations.
Then again, sometimes good genre fiction is often more about the intricately plotted journey than the showy destination. If Carter fails to induce genuine surprise in the end, he compensates by plunging us headfirst into swirling psychological and physical realms along the way.
Tyrone Beason is a writer for Pacific Northwest magazine.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.
Furniture & home furnishings
POST A FREE LISTING