An idealistic teacher gets sucked into an unfamiliar world of war profiteering in this bracing thriller.
Life changes for Roger Williams, a math teacher, when he meets and falls in love with Jill, an attractive woman who's probably out of his league. They marry despite knowing little about each other. All Roger knows about Jill's job is that she works for the shadowy Army contractor Grayrock. When Jill disappears, Roger suspects that she may have run off with her co-worker Lyle White. At the urging of friendly restaurateur Omar, Roger travels to Afghanistan looking for his wife. Once there, he eventually learns from Lyle that Jill is probably dead back in the States. He also discovers that he's unknowingly part of a scheme to launder aid money stolen by Jill and Lyle. As Roger struggles to extricate himself from the con, he also tries to protect Sophie Martens, a Belgian aid worker. Had the money not been stolen, it was earmarked for Sophie's group, which trains female teachers in Afghanistan. Despite being out of their depth, Roger and Sophie attempt to right a raft of wrongs in a country at war. In this battle between those trying to help (aid workers) and those trying to profit (exploitive contractors), author Keech, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Iran, makes no bones about which side he supports. Lyle is outright venal, with Jill only slightly more likable. Keech portrays Roger and Sophie as forces of good—moral but naive—and their journey toward finding each other amid danger is memorable. However, the true scene-stealer here is the country of Afghanistan, brought to life in this well-researched volume ("Crawling through the traffic, they saw the turquoise blue dome of the mosque and its twin minarets against the mountains in the distance"). The chaos of war catalyzes key developments in the plot, and Afghanistan's citizenry plays a strong supporting role.
This engaging, layered work proves to be both a love story and a cautionary tale.