Beirut Station
August 9, 2023

Book Review

Beirut Station

reviewed by Andrew Smith


Situated on a peninsula at the midpoint of Lebanon’s coastline sits the ancient city of Beirut. It was once the hub of intellectual and cultural life within the Arab Middle East and later became a major tourist destination, but from 1975 civil war and occupation changed all that.

By the time Analise arrived in the city, in 2006, a year after the assassination of the country’s Prime Minister, it had become a very dangerous place indeed. She’d been recruited into the CIA via Georgetown University and had subsequently spent some time in Iraq before her current assignment. Now, following the abduction of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah forces, yet another war is in progress.
American Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, is expected to make a surprise visit to the city shortly in an attempt to broker peace. But the CIA, in partnership Mossad, Israel’s equivalent body, believe that a terrorist called Najib Qassem is plotting to assassinate her. A joint team has been set up in Beirut overseen by a pair of old hands, one from each agency – their brief being to kill Qassem before he can get to Rice. It’ll be tough, as he’s known to be a seasoned and watchful operator. The role allocated to Analise is that of planner, meaning she’ll need to get close enough to Qassem to understand his movements in order that a plan can be formulated that the team can execute. To this end, she’s managed to strike up a relationship with the assassin’s grandson through her volunteer role as an English teacher at the International College.
Through Analise, we watch events play out. She’s a confident young woman who is committed to her role but is nonetheless wary not only of Qassem and those around him but also of those that would appear to be on her side. Her old school station chief is fond of a liquid lunch and is suspicious of, and forever bickering with, his Mossad counterpart; all agreements between them seem to be hard fought. A Mossad agent who is working alongside her is prickly and difficult to communicate with, and she’s even caught a journalist who she’s struck up a casual relationship with snooping in her handbag. To make matters worse, now people from the Lebanese Internal Security Forces have suddenly started sniffing around, asking questions. Who can she trust – can she actually trust anyone?
Novels involving espionage can be tricky. There is always an element of smoke and mirrors in play and it seems that an extra level of concentration is required lest you get left behind, lost in a labyrinthine narrative. But though I didn’t manage to unpick all of the hidden secrets here, I did find it an enjoyable task to follow this tale – a work of fiction superimposed on historical fact – through to its very exciting conclusion. In the end it all made sense, all the dots satisfactorily joining up. It’s a novel that grabbed me in two ways, both positive: first and foremost it’s compelling story, one that gripped me from start to finish, but it also awakened in me a dormant interest in the complex politics of the Middle East. I found myself undertaking additional research, eager to better understand the forces and ideologies at play. This is a book that entertained me and educated me, or at least force me to educate myself. Both noble outcomes in my view.
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