Derek Braun is working for Emergency Relief Corps in Afghanistan when terrorists attack the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. An ex-Notre Dame football star, he has been doing relief work in Central Asia for five years and is planning for this to be his final tour of duty.
He is engaged to marry Zarina, a native of Tajikistan, and intends to return to the United States with her. The events of Sept. 11 take a personal turn when Zarina and a colleague, Henry, are kidnapped in southwestern Tajikistan while distributing food at a medical clinic. Derek embarks on a frantic search to identify the kidnappers and rescue Zarina and Henry. Unable to secure the assistance of Afghan officials and CIA contacts, he embarks on a dangerous journey as he pursues his own leads. He confronts Islamic terrorists, corrupt Russian soldiers and Afghan warlords as the trail leads him to the River Panj along the Afghan border with the former Soviet-controlled Tajikistan. There, a wounded Derek is reunited with his fiancée and his friend after engaging in a gun battle with the kidnappers.
In telling this story, Raterman demonstrates his firsthand knowledge of the region, having travelled through Afghanistan and Tajikistan doing odd jobs and working for CARE. He fills pages with detailed descriptions of the geography of Central Asia and its complicated politics. Although Raterman clearly knows his subject, the setting sometimes overshadows the story because the details of everyday life take something away from the mix of intrigue, violence and romance. The characters are too stereotypical to live up to the challenge of the plot.
The story offers a glimpse of a world that may be unfamiliar to most readers, topical as that world may be, and therein lies the strength of this book.
Reviewed by Eveline Speedie