Robert Clayton Ames was a very good spy.
The day President Bill Clinton oversaw the signing of the Oslo Accords between Palestine and Israel, a group of CIA officers strode up to Arlington Cemetary to visit the grave of one of their own - Bob Ames, a CIA operative who specialised in the Middle East, whose actions lay the groundwork for the very accords being signed that day. Heading back in time, The Good Spy tells the story of Ames' entry into the CIA and how he rose to become one of their foremost experts on the Middle East. As he tries to walk the difficult line between reality and politics, he slowly heads towards his final destiny among the ruins of the American embassy in Beirut...
I love spies. Anything relating to espionage, both in fiction and non-fiction will get my attention. A few years ago I read Tim Werner's wonderful overview of the CIA, Legacy of Ashes, and remember reading about Robert Ames. So when I saw The Good Spy, a full biography of the man, on Netgalley, I immediately requested an advanced copy. And I am extremely glad I did because The Good Spy is a tour de force exploration, not only of one man but of the world he inhabited. Bird does a great job of peeling back the various layers of Ames' life as his career in the CIA takes him from one Middle East city to another.
While the book is centred on Ames, Bird takes the time to delve into the world around him. A number of key figures in the PLO are carefully depicted, especially the "Red Prince", Hassan Salameh, who shares almost as much page-time as Ames. Throughout the book, though, there is a constant threatening feeling overshadowing the narrative as we get ever closer to the horrific events of April 1983 and the bombing of the Beirut embassy. Bird deals with the aftermath in a respectful way, showing the effect of so much death on the country at large, but also more specifically those who knew Ames personally.
The Good Spy does a great job of providing a rounded, well-written exploration of an unsung American hero. Not afraid to deal with the darker aspects of Ames' career, Bird manages to give us true insight into his world. I gave The Good Spy 4 presidential briefings out of 5.