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Friday, October 3, 2014

Agency Rules by Khalid Muhammad (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Khalid Muhammad was born in the Swat valley in the Northwestern part of Pakistan but was brought up in the United States of America. Inspired by stories about Jack Ryan, Jason Bourne, James Bond, etc. Khalid choose to write about the stories in his head and that lead to the inception of his debut book Agency Rules. He currently lives in Pakistan. 

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: Celebrated as a ragtag force that defeated and broke the Soviet Union, no one predicted the Mujahideen would bring with them a plague that would spread like wildfire through Pakistan in the years to follow. When the battle-worn fighters returned with no enemy or war to fight, they turned their sights on the country that had been their creator and benefactor.

From the same battlegrounds that birthed the Mujahideen, a young Kamal Khan emerges as a different breed of warrior. Discarding his wealthy family comforts, Kamal becomes a precision sniper, an invincible commando and a clandestine operative bringing intimidation, dominance and death with him to the battlefield. Ending the plague is his prime directive.

Shrouded in political expediency, hampered by internal power struggles, international espionage and doublespeak that makes Washington’s spin doctors proud, Kamal’s mission is a nightmare of rampant militant fundamentalism that threatens to choke and take Pakistan hostage. For him, the fight is not just for freedom, but the survival of a nation. 

FORMAT/INFO: Agency Rules is 332 pages long divided over eighteen numbered chapters. Narration is in the third-person via Kamal Khan and a bunch of other characters. Agency Rules is the first book of the untitled series.

January 13, 2014 marks the paperback and e-book publication of Agency Rules and it was self-published by the author.

ANALYSIS: Agency Rules by Khalid Muhammad is a very different thriller, because primarily it focuses on Pakistan. A country, whose internal turbulence is like none other and one whose problems matter because it has a nuclear arsenal. Secondary point of differentiation is that the main protagonist is an ISI agent who is as true as they come.

The story focuses on Kamal Khan, an ISI operative who is suddenly catapulted into a strange situation within the lawless tribal areas formerly known as the Northwest frontier province and now known as Federally administered tribal areas. We meet Kamal just as he’s graduating from his military academy and is selected by his peers to join the ISI. Faced with a different post, he soon discovers that there is a terrorist group operating within their circles and infiltrates them to meet their true leaders. Soon he will be faced with answers that will terrify him but the job needs to be done.

This book intrigued me as it focused on a country that is neighbors with my birth country and shares a very complicated history. The ISI is an organization that basically rivals the CIA and is probably the only other organization that shares such a sordid reputation. The author though takes his time to establish a lot of factoids about the organization’s creation and the people who were involved with it. This aspect of the story was intriguing and will help a lot of readers who basically don't know much about the organization to get familiar with their workings.

I enjoyed how the author built the organization as well as showcased brilliantly the fragile state of Pakistan’s democracy. The author also reveals how terrible twisted the political and military machinery works hand in hand and shines a dark light on the agents that make up the ISI. The author reminded me a lot of John Le Carre in this effort, as he doesn’t make spycraft sexy. Like Mr. Cornwell’s famous pseudonym, he basically shows the unglamorous and truthful side to things that make nations work. The author however does manage to make this story not too gloomy unlike most of Le Carre’s work.

The book though does suffer from some negatives, namely that the main character isn’t very likable as are the other characters we meet. Thrillers need memorable characters, excellent plot twists and snappy pace. This story delivers on the last part but isn’t quite memorable in the first two factors. The characters are grey or black (depending on your view) and with certain authors could still be very magnificent bastards. But in this book, the author fails to make us truly care for most of the lot besides invoking sympathy for their plight being stuck in rather unfortunate conditions.

CONCLUSION: Agency Rules is a dark thriller that focuses on a country that is much maligned and manages to invoke the reader’s interest. It however doesn’t go the complete route of great thrillers and manages to be a decent read instead of being a fabulous one.


Anonymous said...

If you liked Agency Rules you might also like Bullets and Train of Adeerus Ghayan. However, his latest novel "The Scriptwriter" is more interesting, in my opinion. Both are on espionage and terrorism in Pak-Afghan region.

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