The Prisoner’s Wife: an arresting read

 Exclusive interview with author Gerard MacDonald and a review of his novel about CIA kidnapping

 Rating: Three Stars

 by Gabrielle Pantera

“My adult books seem to be classed as thrillers, but I don’t really see them as such,” says The Prisoner’s Wife author Gerard MacDonald. “I don’t find most thrillers very interesting. The characters are commonly pawns, there only to move the plot. I wish there was another category for commercial fiction with strong narrative drive and complex characters…books like James Meek’s We Are Now Beginning Our Descent.”

“I was interested in the policy extraordinary rendition, in the way American agents, usually but not always CIA, picked up men and women, confining them in black prisons in a dozen countries, keeping them off the American mainland,” says MacDonald. “At the time, three or four years ago, not too much was known or published on rendition…or what happened to the prisoners. Most were tortured, a few died, and almost all were confined for years, even when the American authorities realized they had an innocent man.”

It’s Paris, 2004. Shawn McGuire has been removed from active duty at the CIA for violence and drinking. It doesn’t help that he’s a sex addict and mourning the death of his wife. Ayub Abbasi offers McGuire a job: find Darius Osmani, who’s been kidnapped by the CIA. Osmani has documents that will keep Abbasi safe. The book moves between Morocco, Egypt and Pakistan. McGuire teams with Osmani’s wife and his CIA buddy Bobby.

Fans of John LeCarre’s densely-plotted spy yarns will find much to enjoy here. The Prisoner’s Wife is a story of conspiracy and suspense with vivid description and strong dialogue. As a flawed protagonist, McGuire is both complex and frustrating. And there’s plenty of political details for those that enjoy them. However, the flashbacks within flashbacks are confusing and unnecessary.

MacDonald’s research included tracing Gulfstream flightpaths when Extraordinary Rendition was at its height to the various detention facilities that host countries officially denied existed. He had to learn the secret language of rendition. Kidnapped prisoners, who were head-bagged, shackled and sedated, were termed “invitees”. Those moved from prison to prison were “frequent fliers”.

MacDonald visited or revisited the countries in which the novel is set: France, Morocco, Egypt and Pakistan. He visited a secret prison in Cairo when he’d been warned away. Going back after the Arab Spring he found that, for a short time, anyone could wander in. “I’d booked for a final research visit to Peshawar,” says MacDonald. “My hotel was blown up the day I was due to arrive. I canceled.”

A lot of reading was part of MacDonald’s research. “If you have the patience, most of this material is on the web, in Wikileaks files, or in recent books.”

Macdonald has written the Young Adult novel The Boy Who Won the Pools as well as a book for young children, three for teenagers, six TV series, many TV episodes, and several TV movies. He’s currently finishing a novel about a Republican political fixer and his young intern, set during a Presidential election. He is also working on a fictional treatment of the Lockerbie plane bombing.

MacDonald was born in New Zealand but lives in London.

 The Prisoners Wife by Gerard MacDonald. Hardcover, 320 pages, Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (May 8, 2012), Language: English. ISBN: 9780312591809