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Book Review - "The Wolf of Sarajevo" by Matthew Palmer

The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link on the right side bar.

9780399175015_p0_v1_s192x300The Wolf Of Sarajevo by Matthew Palmer is a thriller set in the Balkans.  It is the author’s way of reminding Americans about that part of the world.  Because of his close ties Palmer is able to use his experiences to create a good storyline. 

Palmer has spent a good amount of his life and career working in this area of the world.  His first post was with the Foreign Service at the US Embassy in Serbia.  He later served as desk officer in Washington and as a political counselor in Belgrade where he helped broker the ”April 19th Agreement” between Serbia and Kosovo.  This August he will be taking over as the director to the Balkans.  He also has personal connections since his wife is Serbian.

The complex make-up of the area makes this story very believable.  Palmer shows how this is a region where politics, ethnicity, and history blend together with century-old grievances.  The plot begins as Annika Sondergaard, a European Union diplomat, has a plan to unite the Balkans and stop the in fighting, enlisting the help of career US diplomat Eric Petrosian.  He is back in Sarajevo at the embassy, with the specter of war once again hanging over the Balkans. The Bosnian Serb leader, who had for a time been seeking a stable peace, has turned back to his nationalist roots and is threatening to pull Bosnia apart in a bloody struggle for control. Eric is dragged deeper into the political mayhem while uncovering a plot of blackmail and ruthless ambitions.

Understanding how the area can be confusing to outsiders Palmer struggled with the details from his personal experiences.  He commented to, “Just because something is complex doesn’t mean that it needs to be dull.  I hope to allow the readers through the story to see the human side of the diplomatic profession.  I wanted to highlight in the book the awfulness of man’s inhumanity to man.  I was able to write elements of truth regarding the cruelty of psychopaths, like Radovan Karabjic, who rose to positions of power. The title is based on the Balkan proverb, ‘The wolf changes its fur, but never its character.’”

He also compared the two female main characters, Annika and Sarah. “Annika is an idealist who is pragmatic, brave, and an experienced politician.  Sarah shares her vision of trying to make peace in the Balkans but as a CIA operative she does immoral things to achieve that objective.  I put the Nietzsche quote at the beginning of the book that best describes Sarah:  ‘He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.’  Sarah is prepared to do whatever it takes to support her cause for the greater good.”

His next book will also be a stand alone involving a female diplomat who returns to her homeland of Kyrgystan.  He explained he likes stand-alones, “I learned from my father that in those types of books authors can create a sense of urgency and tension.  It is putting ordinary people, who are just doing their job, into extraordinary circumstances, where trouble seems to find them. I also wanted readers to understand that foreign-service diplomats are seen as positive and valuable people who do not cut deals with the devil.”

The Wolf Of Sarajevo is well written with personal touches from a career diplomat that knows the area well.  The story is believable and realistic.