Homeland: Saul's Game is a novel based on the TV show following Saul and Carrie's hunt for Abu Nazir while trying to prevent civil war in Iraq.
This book occurs about three years after Carrie’s Run. Jumps right back in without missing a beat. There is so much backstory on Saul Berenson and Carrie Mathison that you will have a better understanding of both of them. Despite the title, it has Carrie as the main CIA agent involved running an off-the-record operation orchestrated by Saul. You will appreciate Saul more after reading this but may not like him so much. These two books fit in with the TV series Homeland perfectly.
We are introduced to Nick Brody, the co-star of the first few seasons of “Homeland” on TV. We see how a long captivity has marked him, how he converts to Islam in a heartfelt manner, and how his loyalties to the U.S. waver as he develops a friendship with the child of his captor — Abu Nazir. He wonders what has happened to his family during six years of captivity, including a young son who doesn’t remember him, and a wife resentful that he joined the military after losing his job. And we hear about his depressingly awful childhood at the hands of a drunk and abusive father — a former Marine.
The book gets into areas the TV series never did. Saul grows up as the only Jewish kid — and Orthodox — in a small town in Indiana, the child of Holocaust survivors. He couldn’t possibly be more an outsider. He is constantly looked upon as “TALMUDIC”. The book plays the Jewish angle more heavily with Saul than does the TV series (with the exception of the last series where Saul’s relationship with the Israelis comes into play as he’s about to become a fugitive.)
We learn more about Dar Adal, Saul’s CIA colleague through much of the TV series. On TV he’s played as an American, now here we learn he’s Lebanese, an orphan to their civil war, and was adopted, and trained in the dark arts, by a major Palestinian terrorist. How he not only comes over to the American side, but rises in the CIA, isn’t made clear, and would bear explaining. Dar has a harder edge, and is more likely to see the need to kill someone now while Saul often takes a longer view and wants to hold off.
It’s the spring of 2009. The story is about the hunt for Abu Nazir, but it winds around — Syria, Iraq, Iran, back to Iraq. It’s hard to keep the strands straight, just as it’s hard to keep the players straight in the real-world Middle East, with its dizzyingly complicated overlays of rival religions, governments, tribes, terror organizations and animosities, some recent and some dating back a thousand years.
Carrie dodges death on multiple occasions, including at the hands of a sexy South African mercenary, head of a private security organization privy to high-level Western military intelligence, but suspected of leaking it to Iran or Al Qaeda or both. He and Carrie have the hots for each other — Ecstasy-fueled nights plus a threesome with his hot Ukrainian girlfriend — despite it becoming increasingly clear they’re maneuvering against each other. Carrie starts seeing the pattern of destruction that comes to men involved with her — the soldier Dempsey, killed in the first book, an Iraqi boyfriend about to divorce his wife for her, and now the mercenary DeBruin. Her world is so insane, she reflects, that being bipolar isn’t necessarily a problem.
And she survives harrowing experiences both in Iran, where she is taken prisoner while working on a desperate gambit of Saul’s, and in Iraq, where she and a Sunni team try to stop a Sunni terrorist strike against a Shiite holy place which might start a civil war, just as the Americans are trying to pull out.
This is the second Kaplan novel which ties in with the hugely successful series Homeland. The book surrounds Carrie on a mission to uncover a mole and touches upon Brody's incarceration under Abu Nazir and his subsequent feelings towards Nazir's son and the American administration. This for me was the better of the novels and was really tense at times. It really does lead up to the Tv series so well and is a must for any homeland fan.
Once again, Andrew Kaplan has delivered a story that depicts the characters exactly as we know them on screen, in another prequel to the events of season 1.
Saul's Machiavellian ruthless streak that belies his outward liberal persona, runs riot in this convoluted tale of hunting down the elusive Abu Nazir and trapping a government mole and rogue military contractor. The political and religious complications and alliances that dominate the middle east are once again woven into a convoluted tale of espionage intrigue. This is no John le Carré, and holds enough intellectual sophistication to satisfy the entertainment needs of the series fan and discerning reader alike. The action is solid and well described, however, I think 4,3/5 stars this time, because I wasn't fully convinced by the outcome of a big scene toward the end of the story. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and hope we see more.
Saul: Why? Do you like bad boys?
Carrie: That sounds funny coming from you. You know why girls like bad boys, Saul? Because it gives us an excuse to be mean all the time, convincing us that we're saving them.
Spycraft & CIA Terms
COMINT — Acronym for Communications Intelligence; i.e., intelligence derived from the interception of electronic or voice communications.
CST — The CIA’s Clandestine Service Training Program. While most CIA trainees go through the CIA’s Professional Training (PT) Program, only those CIA employees slated for the clandestine Special Activities Division (SAD) field operations go through the additional one-year CST training.
DIA — Acronym for the Defense Intelligence Agency. The DIA is the agency tasked with supplying and managing military intelligence for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).
DNI — Acronym for the Director of National Intelligence. This position, established post-9/11, acts as head of the U.S. Intelligence community (IC) and reports directly to the U.S. President. Affiliated IC agencies (aka “elements”) reporting to the DNI include the CIA, DIA and other Department of Defense (DoD) intelligence agencies, NSA, Dept. of Energy’s OICI, Dept. of Homeland Security, FBI, DEA, Dept. of State’s INR and Dept. of Treasury’s TFI (Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence). The DNI’s office is responsible for preparing the President’s Daily Brief (PDB).
The Farm — Camp Peary, aka “Camp Swampy” or “The Farm”, is a CIA covert training facility of nearly 10,000 acres near Williamsburg, Virginia. Contrary to popular opinion and its portrayal in movies, only a portion of CIA training is actually done at the Farm (also see “The Point” below).
FSB — The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi, aka “FSB”, is the primary Russian counter-intelligence and domestic security service. It is the successor organization to the KGB of Cold War fame and is headquartered in the former KGB’s headquarters building, aka “Lubyanka Prison”, aka “Adult’s World”, in Lubyanka Square in Moscow. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the KGB was dismantled. Subsequently, the FSB was reconstituted as Russia’s primary domestic security agency.
MASINT — Acronym for Measurement and Signature Intelligence; i.e., intelligence derived from the analysis of technical data, such as the spectrographic analysis of the fuel exhaust of an enemy’s new rocket. MASINT is sometimes referred to as the “CSI” of the intelligence community.
NRO — The National Reconnaissance Office, a U.S. DoD (Department of Defense) agency, operates the spy satellites that supply satellite data for all U.S. intelligence agencies.
NSA — The U.S. intelligence agency primarily responsible for COMINT (Communications Intelligence, see above), cryptanalysis and computer intelligence and security. For many years, the U.S. government refused to acknowledge the NSA’s existence, leading Washington insiders to quip that the letters “NSA” stood for “No Such Agency”.
The Point — aka “Harvey Point”, aka “Harvey Point Defense Testing Activity Facility”, is a CIA training facility near Hertford, North Carolina.
SVR — The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedk, was reconstituted from the KGB’s First Chief Directorate, as the Russian external intelligence service. The SVR is headquartered in the Moscow suburb of Yasenevo.
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Organizations and titles