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Literature / John Wells

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A spy novel series by Alex Berenson. The series is led by John Wells, a legendary CIA hero. So far there are six books available, with at least two more books on the way.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Antagonist Title: The Shadow Patrol. It refers to a sniper duet that goes rogue in Afghanistan, Wells' ultimate enemy in the eponymous book.
  • Because I'm Good At It: Wells has come to realize that, no matter how hard he tries, he'll never quit spy. Even when he tries to have a relationship, when his lover asks him to pick her or the job, he picks the job.
  • Black Comedy: Berenson sprinkles it here and there, partly to heighten the tension, partly make the characters' Gallows Humor and Deadpan Snarker work.
  • Blood Knight: Wells relish in whites-in-the-eyes fight...because it's the only time he feels alive.
  • Character Development: Duto. In Faithful Spy, he's a complete Jerkass Da Chief that steals people's credit and stands no disapproval from below. Eight books later, he is a fully-developed The Chessmaster politician who is on his way to take the White House.
    • By book 8 and 9, he also opens up to Wells a bit and even attempts to give a well meaning deconstruction of Wells inability to reconcile his desire for a normal life with his Chronic Hero Syndrome, telling him to accept who he is and be at peace with the fact.
  • Character Shilling: Exley.
  • Chekhov's Gun: in the Silent Man, Wells found a Nittany Lion mug on a jihadi financier. Turns out the bad guys have a final stopover in an apartment of a Penn State student.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Wells has a case. Played for Drama once, when Exley calls him out about it. It doesn't work. So she leaves him.
    • Deconstructed to a degree. Because of this, Wells can't hold down a relationship with his lovers or son and is in denial about it to a great extent. This is seen when Anne throws him out of her house at the end of The Counterfeit Agent and immediately shoots him down when he tries to apologize and reassure her that he'll eventually quit.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Shafer acts this way, though he is unquestionably the best analyst in CIA. Whether he's that weird or he wants to mythify himself is beyond everyone.
    • Deconstructed supremely dark in form of Mohammed Fariz, an inmate of the Midnight House. Both his fellow jihadi inmate and American prison interrogators consider him to be crazy, and so no one pays attention to what he's doing. He ends up cutting his inmate to eighty-five bits and then slashing his own neck. The bleeding is so bad that the interrogators need waders to get in.
  • Contrived Coincidence: In Shadow Patrol, it just happens that Talib warlord Amadullah Thuwani's half-brother is Miteb, a Saudi prince whom Wells worked for in Secret Soldier. But better that than Ass Pull character.
  • Cowboy Cop: More like cowboy agent. Wells is more used to work alone by his rules.
  • Da Chief: Duto hates Wells because Wells stands up to him, though he still recognizes Wells' importance.
  • Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: Wells left his son, Evan, from his first marriage because he's going undercover to Al Qaeda.
    • Deconstructed heavily in Shadow Patrol. For Evan, Wells is as good as a sperm donor. He has considered his stepfather, Howard, as his real father.
    Evan: I have two real parents. I couldn’t miss you any less.
  • Darker and Edgier: Compared to other spy fictions, this series is really dark, not because of its violence scenes, but rather its characters' depth.
    • Midnight House and Shadow Patrol are especially dark.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Everyone has his moments. Yes, truly.
    A CIA team is preparing for an extraction mission to North Korea:
    Kang (preparing a satellite image of North Korea): And that's North Korea. Dead as a whatever.
    Beck: The good citizens of the Democratic People's Republic don't need the corruption of the outside world.
    Kang: Yeah. Like food.
  • The Determinator: Wells. Most notably in Faithful Spy, where he's infected with plague, and in the Ghost War, where he's tortured in Chinese prison.
  • Downer Ending: The end of Midnight House. Wells has been made a fool by Vinny Duto so badly that he quits CIA.
  • The Dragon: Yusuf to Nasiji, Francesca to Lautner.
  • Driven to Suicide: Rachel Callar. The moment she saw what Mohammed Fariz had done and become because of the Midnight House, she breaks.
  • Driving Question: What happened in the Midnight House? And who is Stan in Shadow Patrol?
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The Faithful Spy runs on this trope. For ten years, Wells lives undercover in the backwater of Afghanistan. When he returns to America, his mother was dead, his wife remarried, and his son doesn't know him. He couldn't adjust, his faith in Islam wears off, and his closest confidant Exley is trapped by her job. Even worse, neither CIA, who suspects him a traitor, nor Al Qaeda, who suspects him an infidel, trusts him. And then he gets infected with plague...But in the end, everything's worth it for Wells, for when he opens his eyes, there she is.
  • Enhanced Interrogation Techniques: The Midnight House.
  • Evil Laugh: Or more exactly, a high-pitched hyena-like giggle. Francesca's.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Duto-led CIA suspects Wells of this in Faithful Spy.
    • Lautner in Shadow Patrol.
  • Foreshadowing: in Midnight House, Shafer jokes that Eddie, the mole in Ghost War and a CIA fugitive will betray himself by sending a postcard to his wife. Exactly what happens in Secret Soldier.
  • Gallows Humor: Justified. Berenson's characters are spies and soldiers. They cope with the stress of their job by making fun of it. Mostly summed up by this gem:
    American soldiers get out of armored personnel carrier, arrive at a backwater village in Afghanistan:
    Young: Back to reality.
    Fowler: This is reality?
    Young: I hope not.
  • Genre Deconstruction: Subtly, about Wells and Exley's relationship. In the Faithful Spy, their attachment resembles Romeo and Juliet's, and in the end they do get together. But in subsequent books, now that they move in and live together, they have to deal with each other's strength and weakness.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: save for Times Square in Faithful Spy, the rest of Wells' adventure remains secret.
    • Most notably in Faithful Spy. Bin Laden asks Wells whether Hoover Dam is a great symbol of America. Wells says no. Nobody, not even Wells, knows how much credit he deserves for the fact that Hoover Dam is still in one piece.
    • This bites Wells in the ass in Midnight House. Fred Whitby threatens to reveal Wells' murders in Moscow in order to stop Wells' private investigation. When Wells fires back by taking credit for saving Washington DC from nuclear weapon in Silent Man, Whitby says Wells cannot reveal it without creating national hysteria.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: The only thing Wells dreads.
    • Francesca in Shadow Patrol has become one.
  • Hero of Another Story:
    • Once upon a time, Shafer saved Rosette from Mobutu, dictator of Zaire. Wells can't imagine Shafer beyond Washington suburb.
    • Duto, too. He was once a case officer in Colombia, where he'd been abducted by leftist rebels.
  • Hidden Depths:
    • Kowalski. He is an amoral man who profits from dealing weapons to all sides in a war, but as shown in Silent Man and Secret Soldier, he does the right thing sometimes. In Silent Man, he give Wells a name of a terrorist nuclear network because he can't stand seeing cities like NYC gone for some religious tales. In Secret Soldier, he connects Wells with Abdullah, a moderate king of Saudi Arabia whom he regards better than the rest of the royals.
    • Duto. True, he's a full-blown Jerkass Da Chief, Obstructive Bureaucrat borderline corrupt, and most of all, an egoistic power-seeker who refuses to take blame for any mistake CIA makes. But the Batman Gambit he pulls off on Wells and Shafer in Midnight House exemplifies why it's not wise to cross on this man. Also, in Shadow Patrol, it's revealed that Duto had once suffered a two-month abduction in Colombia, shrugged it off in two weeks of Caribbean vacation, and then returned to the same station. Nobody had ever accused him of being afraid.
    • In book 9, he gets to show off his combat training, saving Wells during his attack on the antagonist's safe house with the smooth use of a Remington 870.
  • Hiding Behind Religion: What Wells thinks of Al Qaeda.
  • Honor Before Reason: Coleman Young would die sooner than let Fowler's death go unavenged.
  • Idiot Ball: Hardly anyone in the series. Most of the characters are sensible and third-dimensional.
  • Internal Affairs: Shadow Patrol's plot. Who's the traitor in CIA Kabul station?
  • Interservice Rivalry: CIA versus Office of Director of National Intelligence in Midnight House. CIA wins.
  • It Gets Easier: played with. Wells has no compunction killing terrorists, but he is no assassin. He never forgets anyone he kills, and he can't pretend all of them are his enemies.
  • It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: Wells duct-tapes Kowalski's head in Ghost War. For that, Kowalski tries to assassinate him and Exley in Silent Man, the next book. Disproportionate Retribution can't even begin to describe Kowalski's attempt to get even.
  • It's Personal: Deconstructed in the first arc of the Silent Man. After an attack on him leaves Exley severely wounded, Wells goes to Russia alone to take on one of the masterminds behind the attack, ignoring the advice from his Obstructive Bureaucrat boss Duto to wait for evidence. In a stock spy novel he would have succeeded. He ends up killing pawns who got nothing to do with the attack, missing the real mastermind, and needing to apologize to Duto to avoid prosecution.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: again, Midnight House, CIA versus ODNI. CIA wants the truth of Midnight House comes out and ODNI doesn't.
  • Karma Houdini: Kowalski and Saeed.
  • Long Game:
    • Khadri's plan in Faithful Spy. by car bombing Los Angeles and assassinating an ex-Pentagon top dog, he attempts to occupy CIA as long as he can until he can launch his two-pronged master plan: dirty-bombing Times Square and then plague-spreading New York subways.
    • Lautner's plan in Shadow Patrol. by dealing drugs with Talib warlord, he attempts to build his cred high enough so the Talib warlord agrees to have a private meeting with him, where he gives the warlord SAM to shoot down CIA plane.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Steve Callar and Peter Lautner.
  • Mad Lib Thriller Title:
    • The Ghost War
    • The Shadow Patrol
  • Married to the Job: Wells. His first marriage and his engagement with Exley end because of this.
  • Memetic Badass: In-universe, in the aftermath of Faithful Spy. Though realistically, by fourth book it fades away. By sixth book, nobody recalls Wells on the top of his head.
  • The Mole: a subplot in Ghost War, a major plot in Shadow Patrol.
  • Nakama: Wells, Exley, and Shafer. Duto even lampshades this, calling them the Three Musketeers with us-against-the-world thing. Exley's out by the end of Silent Man, Wells quits CIA by the end of Midnight House.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: by killing government-affiliated mercenaries in Russia, Wells makes it impossible for the CIA to investigate the attack on him and Exley.
  • Noodle Incident: In-universe. Just exactly what happened in the Midnight House?
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Francesca screams this to Wells as they are fighting. But Wells knows better.
    Francesca: You think you're any different than me, John? That what you think?
    Yeah, somewhere on the way, you stopped caring who you killed.
  • Roaring Rampageof Revenge:
    • Wells, when Kowalski tries to assassinate him and his girlfriend in Silent Man.
    • Steve Callar in Midnight House.
  • Romance Ensues: Wells and Exley at their DC trip in Faithful Spy.
  • Said Bookism: Averted with a vengeance. Berenson's such a good author that his dialogue speaks all it needs to speak.
  • Saudi Arabia: the setting of Secret Soldier.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!:
    • Li wants to save China by ignoring all sensible diplomacy with the United States.
    • Wells goes to Moscow to hunt those behind the attempt on him and Exley. He is convinced that Kremlin won't surrender them and CIA won't pursue further. He fails.
  • Spanner in the Works:
    • Cao in Ghost War.
    • Bashir in Silent Man. But he failed.
    • Mohammed Fariz in the Midnight House.
  • Start of Darkness: Lautner's wife and brother were killed by Al Qaeda triple agent. CIA, specially Duto, refused to own that up. That prompts Lautner into his Face–Heel Turn.
  • State Sec: Chinese MSS in Ghost War, Egyptian mukhabarat and Pakistani ISI in Midnight House, Saudi muk in Secret Soldier.
  • Sequel Hook
    • In Silent Man, Wells makes a coin flip: heads, he kills Kowalski; tails, he sees Evan. Subverted. The Midnight House reveals he ends up backpacking to Asia.
    • In Midnight House, Duto tells Wells that Wells will eventually be back for the CIA. Wells doesn't.
    • In Secret Soldier, Wells feels that his beef with Saeed isn't over.
    • In Shadow Patrol, Amadullah still has anti-aircraft missiles. And one day he will use them.
  • The Stoic: Wells.
  • Supporting Protagonist: The Silent Man is overloaded with these. You have Grigory, a scientist who helps with the warhead theft; Bashir, an doctor who transforms the warhead into a working nuclear bomb; Kowalski, an arms dealer who tries to stop his feud with Wells by selling out a jihadi involved on the warhead theft; and Wells, who would never have heard of the nuclear plot if Kowalski hadn't tried to assassinate him and his girlfriend. The real protagonist of the book? It's Sayyid Nasiji, the Villain Protagonist.
  • Torture Always Works: Deconstructed heavily in Midnight House. It works, but at what cost?
  • Torture Cellar: the eponymous Midnight House.
  • Ultimate Job Security: Zig-zagged. After the Faithful Spy, Duto rewards Wells and Exley and Shafer his CIA director-level credentials, but puts them outside official chain-of-command of Langley. This means that our trio have blank check on whatever work they do, but one mistake and they are fired.
  • Villain Protagonist: Sayyid Nasiji in The Silent Man. The whole novel revolves around his plot to nuke America. Of course, he fails.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Li wants to purge corrupt ministers in Chinese leadership so Chinese nation can achieve greater prosperity. Only one problem: he does so by pushing China to war with America
  • What, Exactly, Is His Job?: In a pleasant twist, Wells asks this to himself. After the Faithful Spy, there isn't much he could do in CIA. Sure, he saves America once every year so far, but he doesn't have a daily job.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Wells gets so many in Silent Man. From Rosette, Shafer, Duto, Kowalski, and Exley.
  • World Half Full: Wells has issues with his faith, relationship, and politics. And yet he still trusts that what he's doing is right.