There's an old literary bromide that says you can't pile enough problems onto your protagonist the tougher things are, the better. As Margaret Lowrie Robertson makes her transition from CNN international correspondent to novelist in Season of Betrayal, we can be sure of one thing: She paid attention to that piece of advice.

Consider the plight of Robertson's lead character, Lara McCauley. It is 1983 in Beirut. Ravaged by civil war, this chaotically dangerous region has witnessed enough violence and sadness to shock even veteran correspondents. Lara has come to Beirut to join her husband, Mac, a globe-trotting journalist and danger junkie one of the good old boys among his colleagues at the hotel bar. But as a husband, he's boorish and downright cruel a man not shy about humiliating Lara in public or getting abusive with her in private.

Problems? Lara's just getting started. She meets the enigmatic Thomas, the son of a Polish engineer father and a Brazilian poet mother. Thomas is fluent in many languages and possesses a deep understanding of Middle Eastern culture. And he treats Lara with the attention and respect she's missing from Mac. The relationship begins as a friendship, but innuendo and cultural misperception can quickly morph into reality. Season of Betrayal provides enough dramatic tension in the Lara-Mac-Thomas triad to satisfy most readers, but Robertson's singular accomplishment is weaving fact with fiction. The novel manages to be entertaining as well as enlightening, and helps the reader hack through the web of cultures and beliefs that make up the complex tapestry of the Middle East.

Which brings us to yet another literary chestnut that says fiction can be more instructive than facts. Season of Betrayal reinforces that notion while managing to supply readers with enough twists and turns to keep them rapidly turning the pages. Michael Lee is literary editor of The Cape Cod Voice and a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

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