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    A thiller with chilling realism

    In A.E. Sawan’s compelling thriller, Al Shabah, or The Ghost, fact and fiction are skillfully blended into a fast-paced and highly charged story of an assassin whose specialty is wiping out terrorists The book’s narrator is Paul, a Christian who grows up in Lebanon’s notorious Bekaa Valley, home to battling factions during the brutal, complex, and devastating Lebanese civil war from 1975 to 1990. Defending his sister from an assault by neighborhood thugs with a well-aimed B-B gun, Paul’s young life soon morphs into escalating assaults against Islamic jihadists who find joy in the taking of innocent life. The book’s opening line is a grabber: “I’ve become the kind of man I hate.” With that, the book is impossible to put down until the final satisfying line. Beyond the story, the book opens a window into the complexities of life in the Middle East, not only during the civil war years, but now. Lebanon was a precursor to the war now in Syria, when it was fought over by the Syrian army, militant Islamic jihadists, Christian militias, the Druze, and the Israeli army. Life was dangerous as forces clashed over the Green Line that divided Beirut. As Sawan writes, the line was far from green -- it was a waste land of humanity. The war involved the U.S. when in 1983 a suicide truck bomb killed 241 U.S. Marines and 58 French soldiers protecting the U.S. embassy. It was the dawning of the age of suicide bombers, now agonizingly common. Sawan taps into this horrific reality with his hero Paul, who commits to eradicating evil by becoming the terrorists’ worst nightmare. Sawan understands his topic well, having been born in the Bekaa Valley and tortured as a youngster, then recruited and trained to fight terrorists. He infuses his thriller with chilling realism. I look forward to the next installment.

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