THE LAST MAN IN TEHRAN
By Mark Henshaw
Touchstone, $24.99, 322 pages
Mark Henshaw, the author of the “The Last Man in Tehran” and the three previous spy thrillers in his “Red Cell” series, is a veteran CIA analyst who served in the CIA’s Red Cell Unit.
As Mr. Henshaw wrote in his debut novel, “Red Cell,” the unit is an alternative analysis unit set up by then-CIA Director George Tenet on Sept. 13, 2001 to ensure that the CIA didn’t suffer another surprise like the Sept. 11 attack. The Red Cell’s job is to play devil’s advocate and think out of the box. The unit was to discover possibilities that other analysts might overlook or dismiss.
“The Last Man in Tehran” opens on Nov. 4, 1979 outside of the American Embassy, where the embassy employees have been taken prisoner by students in support of the Iranian Islamic revolution. Sitting on a bench in Honarmandan Park is an Israeli Mossad officer named Gavi Ronen. The Israeli intelligence officer was meeting his counterpart in SAVAK, the ousted Shaw’s secret police. The two intelligence officers lament the current events and say their goodbyes.
Kyra Stryker, a case officer brought in from the cold due to a fiasco in Venezuela and assigned to the Red Cell unit in the first novel, has been recently promoted to be chief of the Red Cell unit. In her first days as the Red Cell chief a radioactive “dirty bomb” is detonated in the Port of Haifa in Israel.
Suspecting the Iranians, the Mossad counterattack with a campaign of sabotage and assassinations. The CIA then discovers that someone in the CIA is helping the Israelis wage the covert war. The FBI is brought in to find the CIA mole and Kyra Stryker is assigned to work with the FBI.
Katherine Cooke, the former CIA director who placed Stryker in Red Cell, is in London. Her consulting company has been hired by the State Department to assist with nuclear talks with the Iranians. She is approached during the meeting by Majid Salehi, who identified himself as the leader of the Iranian nuclear program. He told Cooke that Iran did not attack Israel, but could not offer proof and had no idea who did. Yet he hoped Cooke would pass along his assurances to the CIA and to the Mossad.
At about that same time, Cooke’s husband, Jonathan Burke, a retired CIA officer and the former chief of Red Cell, was approached in a London museum by Gavi Ronen, who is now the chief of the Mossad. He tells Burke that the CIA is withholding information from Israel when the country most needs it. (The president in this novel, like President Obama, was not considered to be a friend of Israel).
“What other people have been so persecuted for two thousand years? Who could understand what that does to a nation? But I assure you that we are a very rational people,” Ronen tells Burke.
“Israel is two hundred sixty miles long. At our most narrow point, we are nine miles wide. A singe dirty bomb explodes and we have to relocate tens of thousands of people for months at a time. A nuclear explosion in Tel Aviv would kill five percent of our people outright, perhaps more. We have been warning the world for decades of this and now we have seen the smallest bit of that prophecy come to pass.
“So you will understand when I say that my leaders are motivated to address this problem. There is finally hard proof of the Iranian’ intentions and your country has chosen to play a game of defense with men determined to cheat. That is a poor decision. Defense is merely the art of losing slowly.”
Ronen asks Burke to have his wife tell the president that Israel will not leave its survival in the hands of other countries.
Burke and Cooke later witness Mossad officers attack the Iranian delegation.
According to the publisher, the dirty bomb attack on Haifa was based on a fictional event which occurred in a war game that Mr. Henshaw organized and ran for the CIA. All of the historical events referenced in the novel are true and the descriptions of CIA headquarters and other locations are accurate. This realism adds to the suspense and believability of the story.
“The Last Man in Tehran” is a suspenseful and action-packed novel that spy thriller fans will enjoy.
My only complaint is that Mr. Henshaw has perhaps “jumped the shark” in finding excuses to have Stryker, a Red Cell analyst, go out in the field and operate like a case officer. In his next novel, I suggest that Stryker stay at CIA headquarters and a new character go out in the field for the action scenes.
• Paul Davis is a writer who covers crime, espionage and terrorism.