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The Miernik Dossier - Charles McCarry

"The Miernik Dossier" introduces the reader to the CIA agent, sometime poet, and polyglot Paul Christopher and the world during the middle years of the Cold War. The novel begins in Geneva, Switzerland in the late spring, where a Polish civil servant (Tadeusz Miernik) employed on contract with the World Research Organization (WRO) faces having to return to Poland pending the imminent expiration of said contract. Miernik sought, in vain, an extension to his contract. He is fearful of being arrested and imprisoned for espionage should he go back to Poland. But it is apparent that little or nothing can be done to prevent him from having to return to his homeland. Indeed, it was at the urging of the Polish Ambassador that Miernik's contract was allowed to expire without being renewed by WRO.

In appearance, Miernik is a bearish-looking, unprepossessing, big-boned misanthrope. He has had a rather hard life, having lost while a teenager both parents during the German occupation of Poland in the Second World War. The only family he has left is his younger sister Zofia (over whom he has been highly protective), a student at the University of Warsaw. Miernik's friends make for an interesting bunch. Besides Paul Christopher (for whom he has a very high regard), there is Niles Collins (a Brit who is a high-ranking middle-level official at the WRO); Khan (a colleague of Miernik's at the WRO from Pakistan who hardly figures at all in the novel); Kalash el Khatar, a 6'8" tall, dark-skinned, suave and urbane prince whose family commands considerable power, wealth, and influence in Sudan; and Ilona Bentley, an alluring, sexually adventurous, and resourceful woman of British & Hungarian parentage, who was German born and had survived the horrors of Bergen Belsen concentration camp as a child before managing to move on to Switzerland after a short sojourn in Britain with relatives. Aside from Prince Kalash and Khan, there is much more to these aforesaid characters that is subtly revealed by the author as the novel progresses.

In the meantime, Prince Khatar extends an invitation to Paul, Miernik, and Collins to accompany him on a trip to his home in Sudan. Collins had already informed Khatar of Miernik's situation at WRO and the imminent expiration of his passport. Khatar responds by telling him that he can help resolve matters for Miernik by contacting the Sudanese ambassador and issuing Miernik with a Sudanese passport, which would be valid upon entering the country. "Khatar wishes to take Miernik along because... it appears [he] has a scholarly interest in Sudanese history and culture. " Of Miernik, Khatar confides to Collins that "[h]e distracts me with his questions about the look of the country, and what he calls social dynamics," ..."I hope to shut him up by letting him see it all with his own eyes."

Prince Kalash acquires a large Cadillac (specially modified to suit his purposes) with which all of them will travel across Europe to Egypt, from where they will drive across the vast desert to Kalash's father's palatial residence in the Sudan. Furthermore, with Collins' help, Kalash is able to purchase Sten submachine guns, a few pistols, and an ample store of ammo for protection against attacks from marauding bandits once they cross the Sudanese frontier. Paul informs his superiors of the planned trip, which meets with their approval, for within Sudan, there is an incipient terrorist group under Soviet patronage (the Anointed Liberation Front or ALF) threatening to upset the peace and social order in the country. The CIA enjoys the support of the Amir (Prince Kalash's father) and helps to prop up with dollars and advisors the internal security service and police. With Paul as one of its best field agents, the CIA is determined to thwart the Russians' efforts to acquire a power base in Khartoum with which to challenge its established sphere of influence.

Towards mid-June, they set off for Sudan, driving from Switzerland into Austria, and after a short detour across the Iron Curtain (Paul does this as a favor to Miernik for a special mission), they arrive in Naples, where they are met by Ilona Bentley (SURPRISE!), and after a two-day delay, they have the Cadillac placed on the ship that carries them to Cairo. Ilona had been a lover to both Collins and Miernik in Geneva, which heightens a growing antagonism between the two men by virtue of her unexpected inclusion on their holiday.

The descriptions of the Sudanese landscape and the experiences of the main characters there make for very compelling and suspenseful reading in the finest tradition of espionage novels. Nothing is as it seems. "THE MIERNIK DOSSIER" has more twists and turns than the roller coaster at Coney Island. Any reader looking for adventure and excitement won't go wrong here.