The Madmen of Benghazi (2011)
Gérard de Villiers (1929-2013)
Translated from the French by William Rodarmor
In 2011, as the Libyan uprising against Muammar Gaddafi raged on, Western governments anticipated a rebel victory and began seeking potential leaders to form a new, replacement government. Even casual attention to news reports at the time made clear the widespread destruction and chaos in Libya as the fighting continued, with daily pictures and videos of rebel militiamen in pickup trucks mounted with machine guns racing along streets and highways as they fought the Libyan army and occasionally one another. Throughout this period, Western intelligence agencies and Special Forces units were understood to be monitoring and participating in the uprising itself, and helping guide the transition to new leadership in Libya.
French journalist and author Gérard de Villiers used these events in Libya as the source material for his spy-thriller The Madmen of Benghazi. Written and published in 2011, the novel follows de Villiers’ pattern of turning the research and contacts he developed as a journalist into stories that appear to be pulled directly from the latest headlines, as described in a bio of the author at the front of the book. The novel stars a freelance secret agent for the CIA named Malko Linge, a character around whom based a long series of spy novels, stretching back more than four decades.
As the story opens, the CIA hires Linge to covertly protect Ibrahim al-Senussi, a wealthy Libyan ex-pat living in London who Western governments have identified as someone likely to protect their interests if placed at the head of a new Libyan government. Al-Senussi, having lived his life in comfort far from the dictatorship in his home country, naively agrees to this plan, grossly underestimating the forces arrayed against him in Libya, where fundamentalist groups loath both his Western connections and his moderate view of Islam. The CIA asks Linge to woo al-Senussi’s girlfriend, a gorgeous British model, in order to keep tabs on al-Senussi’s plans and contacts. As al-Senussi travels first to Cairo, expecting to meet with Libyans sympathetic to his rule, and then inadvisably goes on to Benghazi and so into the middle of the Libyan civil war, Linge follows him, trying to stay a step ahead of a fundamentalist rebel leader who wants al-Senussi, and eventually Linge himself, dead.
De Villiers' writing is fast-paced and focused on the action, with none of the characters very fully developed. Much of the action centers on the tense cat-and-mouse game between Linge and those who want both him and al-Senussi out of the way, but a faithful screenplay of The Madmen of Benghazi would struggle to get only an R rating, and not because of the violence: de Villier paints al-Senussi’s British girlfriend as someone men can’t keep their eyes off of, and who herself seldom keeps her clothes on when either el-Senussi or Linge can get her alone, in scenes that leave little to the imagination. Starting from the first paragraph, not many pages go by without things heating up again.
If you prefer your secret agents to have a more ascetic, or at least romantic, bent, you best look elsewhere. For a fast-paced, sexy thriller set in the events that fill the daily news, however, de Villiers’ The Madmen of Benghazi delivers.
Have you read this book, others by this author, or even similar ones by other authors? I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts.
Other of my book reviews: FICTION Bookshelf and NON-FICTION Bookshelf