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by James Bruno

Release Date: 16th Jul 2011
Publisher: Bittersweet House Press
ISBN: 978 0 9837 6420 5
RRP: £8.99

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The truth about the spy game?

Tribe is former US Foreign Services Officer, James Bruno’s, third novel. Featuring the inimitable CIA officer, Harry Brennan; Bruno invites us into the bowels of the ultra-secretive organisation that is the Central Intelligence Agency.

Afghanistan and Harry Brennan is on a mission. Covert operation “TALISMAN” has been planned for months and is intended to bludgeon a significant dent into the Taliban hierarchy. On arrival, however, Harry learns that TALISMAN has been kyboshed from on high without explanation or warning and so foregoes the official channels and sequesters his local associates to destroy the target as previously planned. His success is short-lived – an ambush that could only have been ordered by his own government takes the shine off the incident; and his Afghan associates are later sold-out and butchered in retaliation. Re-assigned to pimping defection to the Russians, Harry’s life begins to slump. Then he meets Cammy: a stunning blonde with the financial (and therefore influential) clout reserved for multi-millionaires primed for harvesting. Swallowed into her world of soirees, ridiculous PR parties and backroom handshake deals; Harry is swept off his feet. From foot-soldier pariah, to the nexus of CIA intel within a nanosecond. Harry knows he’s been bought and it is only a matter of time before, inevitably, his die-hard morality kicks him in to action.

Curiously, Tribe is not your average spy thriller. In fact, Bruno himself openly states that his intention was to provide something more akin to reality than yet another James Bond carbon-copy. The end result is an intimate view of the tedium, shameless elbow-shoving, egomaniacal nasal-gazing and fractious fiefdoms of internal power that even the CIA succumbs to. Harry Brennan as a radical CIA agent, one who wilfully disobeys direct orders and yet arguably has the moral high ground for doing so, is a much bigger pill to swallow. A throwback to the conscience-driven individual; Harry’s is a lost soul whose life slides into stagnation. And just like Bruno’s main character, the narrative quietly tugs the reader along without as much as a bump to break you from the hypnotic rhythm of inaction and introspection. And that, I suppose, was its downfall for me.

Whilst Bruno emphatically waltzes us a merry dance through the corridors of power, providing a rare insight into the machinations of the inner sanctum of American politics; there is no escaping the fact that very little actually happens. The feeling of simply treading water is overwhelming. And as we’re nit-picking here, it is worth mentioning that the novel needs some serious editorial attention. The story is an admirable one; I’ve long suspected all wars, skirmishes and disputes ultimately lead back to greed and Tribe simply reaffirms this belief. But by mile, I enjoyed Harry’s thoughtful meanderings, his vulnerability, his relentlessly human characteristics... Bruno may not pack his novels with a punch, but he certainly dresses the clandestine world and its inhabitants in sheep’s clothing – never have spies seemed more unassuming. Come to think of it, the bloke across the road goes on a lot of ‘business trips’ and comes back looking all tanned…

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