Wolff, James. “Beside the Syrian Sea”, Bitter Lemon Press, 2018.
The Complexity of the Middle East
Having lived for m about half my life in the Middle East, I have always felt that I have a good understanding of how things are there. However, almost daily I get a question about the area that I have no idea of how to answer. You can imagine my surprise when I found some of the answers in this novel, “Beside the Syrian Sea” by James Wolff. What makes the area so complex is that the situation seems to be in a permanent state of shift. As logical people, we tend to want simple answers to questions that seem to have no answers. While there are no simple answers here, this is a fascinating read with fascinating characters and together they shed light on the area and in this way allow us to see a side of what I going on in the volatile region.
Jonas is a quiet man whose guilt pushes him into becoming a hero. He works for the secret service of the United Kingdom as an intelligence analyst. When his father is kidnapped and held for ransom by the ISIS gunmen in Syria, Jonas takes matters into his own hands and begins to steal secret government intelligence, the only thing that he can use as a negotiating tool. He sets out Beirut with some of the most sensitive documents that he had access to. He recruits an unlikely ally, Father Tobias, an alcoholic Swiss priest. Tobias just barely survived his previous contact with ISIS yet nevertheless agrees to go into the heart of the Islamic State to tell the kidnappers that Jonas is willing to negotiate for his father’s life and release. Both the British and American governments soon realize that they are pulled into a betrayal unlike anything with which they have had to deal; they try everything in their power to stop Jonas, thus testing him as he to keep the negotiations alive and play his enemies against each other. He will have to decide how far he is willing to go to see his father again.
The twist of the father being the one kidnapped and the son forced to become the rescuer makes this quite a read. It is obvious that writer Wolff understands the complexity of intrigue in the Middle East and he is forced to deal with questions of faith and conscience. Jonas becomes a rogue agent who takes on ISIS. Wolff writes with an authentic voice and as a man who knows what he is talking about. The story is filed with plots and counter plots but what we really see and cannot help but admire is the relationship between father and son and just how far a son will go to protect his father.