Saturday, 8 November 2014

The Perfect Kill by Robert Baer

This is an exceptional non-fiction book, if a very odd one. It professes to be a history of assassination, complete with pithy rules, almost a guidebook for someone wanting to embark on a career in political murder.

But truth is that's just a device, a hook to embark on what the book really is which is an account of Baer's experiences and activities as a CIA case officer in the Lebanon and a biography/history of his nemesis at the time: Imad Fayez Mughniyeh.

For political/current affairs geeks like myself, Mughniyeh is infamous, a pre-9/11 Shi'ite bogeyman almost akin to the Sunni Osama bin Laden. One thing that is quite galling is that after introducing us to Mughniyeh, Baer insists on spending the rest of the book referring to him as Hajj Radian. It's never really adequately explained why he does this. But this is a minor quibble and his account of Mughniyeh and his activities is extremely informative and, in my opinion, better than you'll get anywhere else. Baer really seems to understand the man he chased for so long, has a good albeit self-confessed limited understanding of his psyche (which is to expected as they never met and Mughniyeh was never caught) and a good understanding of his modus operandi.

In fact so strong is his account of this little known and little understood terrorist that in some ways I wish he had just written a straight biography. He would then have been able to spend the entire book on Mughniyeh and the Lebanon.

As it is the book is sold as a book on assassination and thus Baer has to widen his net. While occasionally he's in danger of rambling when he goes off the core subject, most of his wider account is still very readable and interesting. He gives a vivid account of an ETA assassination and an IRA one, while his critique of US drone strikes is right on the mark. But it is in the Lebanese sections that the book really shines and one gets the feeling that Baer really enjoyed his work for the CIA in the Lebanon and fell in love with the country. 

All in all I would give this book 4 stars. 

Thanks to Orion for the review copy.

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