Former CIA officer Robert Baer, whose experiences in the Middle East inspired the film Syriana, makes his fiction debut with Blow the House Down, an alternative history to 9/11 that weaves fact and fiction into an intriguingly plausible version of the tragic attacks. The story is replete with money-hungry businessmen, sinister terrorists, rogues, righteous agents and the requisite beautiful woman. In short, there are the good guys, the bad guys and the worse guys.

The hero of Baer's book is Max Waller, a middle-aged CIA agent with an ex-wife, a teenage daughter and a singular obsession: finding the terrorists responsible for the real-life kidnapping and murder of fellow agent William Buckley. Buckley, the CIA chief of station in Beirut, was kidnapped in 1984 and subjected to torture and interrogation for 444 days before dying in captivity. Max, always regarded as a lone wolf, sticks his nose under the wrong tent and finds himself on the outside looking in. His own people are following him, the FBI is making a case against him and he is being set up to take a huge fall, one that will force him out of the agency and possibly into prison. But Max hasn't spent two decades in obscure parts of the world working with shady people without learning a thing or two. With his finger curled around the thread of a mystery, he pulls, and slowly unravels a connection between the U.S., Iran, Osama bin Laden and the eventual 9/11 hijackers. Max flits from one godforsaken Middle East hotspot to the next, growing increasingly disturbed by what he finds something is going to happen and it will be big. Most troubling, the powers-that-be are not only ignoring his warnings, but also seem to be going out of their way to shut him up.

Baer mixes real events and characters among his fictional creations. While the tragedy of 9/11 has recently begun to crop up in literary fiction, this is one of its incipient starring roles in the popular fiction genre. Baer treats the subject with respect in this thoughtful page-turner. Ian Schwarz writes from New York City.

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