Book of the Day



By James Wolff

Bitter Lemon Press 
ISBN 9781908524-980
Publication Date:  May 15, 2018


Review by G. Robert Frazier

Information, as Jonas Worth equates it, is “a currency more sought-after than cash.” Worth, a British intelligence worker, knows this firsthand. But he faces a weighty moral dilemma: Can he trade his access to government secrets to the terrorist organization of ISIS, even if it means saving his father’s life? 

Author James Wolff, who is himself a former British government worker, poses that question for his main character, Jonas, in his gripping debut spy thriller Beside the Syrian Sea ($14.95, Bitter Lemon Press). Jonas reaches this critical turning point following the kidnapping of his father by ISIS forces. 

At first, Jonas’s own government, along with the Foreign Office and the police, implores him to simply be patient: “It’s a waiting game.” He is told in no uncertain terms that the people holding his father will eventually come under the control of more moderate forces who in turn can be persuaded to release their hostages without paying a ransom, which is against British government policy. 

But after three months of anxious waiting, Jonas’ patience wears thin.

Recalling Edward Snowden’s decision to steal government secrets and release them to the media, Jonas confiscates a trove of top secret documents from his office, smuggles them through the building’s security checkpoint, and arranges to exchange the information for the safe return of his father. The trick is to pull it off successfully with the British government, MI-5, and the CIA watching his every move. What follows is a tense, page-turning plot filled with government intrigue, shady foreign agents, danger, and a looming question of just how far would someone go for the sake of love and family.

Set in Beirut, Wolff masterfully pulls off this complex modern-day spy thriller in convincing fashion, evoking obvious comparisons to John Le Carre’s George Smiley spy novels.

Robert Frazier is a freelance writer and former reporter and editor at several Middle Tennessee newspapers. He also reviews books for BookPage and BloggingforBooks and has served as a script reader for both the Austin Film Festival and Nashville Film Festival screenwriting competitions.