Stinger, a Gloriously Gritty Spy Thriller by Gregory D. Lee

The Bottom Line: A gloriously gritty, must-read spy thriller written by a master of the trade.

Stinger opens in January 2003, just weeks before an international military coalition is set to invade Iraq to overthrow the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Meanwhile in Beirut, two Lebanese women are kidnapped. Their abductors soon contact the U.S. Embassy, offering a disquieting photo as proof of life, and demanding a million dollars for their captives’ return. 

The U.S. embassy won’t be of any help. Even if the abducted women were American citizens, they won’t negotiate with terrorists. Enter CIA Case Officer June Cohen, who approaches Robaire Assaly, the son and brother of the abductees. Based in LA, Assaly is a confidential informant for the Drug and Enforcement Administration (DEA). 

Cohen explains that the abductors are raising money so they can purchase a Stinger surface-to-air missile. She then offers Robaire a deal: if he helps the CIA get hold of a Stinger to use as bait, she will arrange for the rescue of his mother and sister. Robaire seems to have no choice in the matter. To make matters worse, he’ll have to lie to his DEA handler. 

Robaire’s handler is rightly incredulous: (“This guy you met for the first time just happened to mention he was in the market for a Stinger?”). Author Gregory D. Lee has filled the book with highly believable, dialogue-driven scenes in which operatives gaslight, persuade and coerce one another. It’s no wonder, given that Lee is himself a veteran DEA and a former instructor for DEA’S Office of Training at the FBI Academy. You’ve probably seen his appearances as a subject matter expert on CNN, Fox, Discovery or the National Geographic Channel.

Over the course of the novel, Lee gradually reveals how a kidnapping in Beirut, a weapons trafficking scheme in LA and Operation Iraqi Freedom are related. Along the way, Cohen is revealed as a complicated, fearless gambler who uses operatives like human chess pieces. The result is a believable, gritty, multifaceted political thriller that rarely has a dull moment.

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