SECRETS OF STATE by Matthew Palmer reviewed

Secrets of State
Matthew Palmer
G.P. Putnam and Sons

Secrets of State by Matthew Palmer is a spy thriller that has diplomats instead of operatives.  With Matthew venturing into the thriller writer world, it became an all in the family affair since his late father, Michael Palmer, and his brother Daniel also are authors.  While Michael Palmer concentrated on hospitals and doctors to set the story, Matthew uses the world as a backdrop.

As a State Department employee for the last 24 years that included working in its think tank and at the National Security Council he is able to use his experiences to write interesting plots.  In this stand-alone Sam Trainor, the former top South Asia expert in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, has found a job in the private sector.  He now works as an analyst for the consulting firm of Argus Systems where he stumbles upon an intelligence anomaly.  He realizes that this transcript of a phone conversation about upending the political balance between India and Pakistan is misinformation that could cause an all out war between these nuclear countries.  Sam must race against a ticking clock and find the terrorists who have stolen a Pakistani nuclear warhead to detonate in Mumbai, India.

Although fiction, readers learn about the complex Indian caste system between the elite and the slums.  They are also exposed to a modern day Machiavellian scenario: does the end justify the means. The book has a quote from Stalin, “the death of one person is a tragedy; the death of a hundred thousand is a statistic.” The protagonist, Sam must answer the question throughout the book, should one person be sacrificed to save many?

The book also explores the affect of outsourcing America’s national security to private corporations.  The villains see themselves as Patriots willing to do anything to keep America safe.  Viewing the US President as misguided and not willing to make the hard choices they plan on stripping Pakistan of its nuclear weapons by setting one off in India and creating a new war.  Palmer brings to the forefront the issue of how secure are nuclear weapons in the hands of rogue nations.

He also gave a heads up about his next book, The Wolf of Sarajevo.  Set in the Balkans, where Palmer spent many years as a diplomat, the hero must try to figure out who is pushing for a new conflict in the area and why.

His books do not have shootouts and the protagonist is not a super hero. The plot is moved along more by the characters words than their actions.  The intrigue of Secrets of State is the details of how diplomats must maneuver through international and domestic politics, sometimes risking their own life in doing so.

Elise Cooper