THE NIGHT RANGER. By Alex Berenson. Putnam. 400 pages. $27.95.

The Knight Ranger

The Knight Ranger

By Alex Berenson


400 pages

Price: $27.95

In “The Night Ranger,” New York Times best-selling author Alex Berenson dares to stray from the proven formula of success for most spy/thriller novels.

“The Night Ranger,” the seventh book in the John Wells franchise, doesn’t rely on the same, tired cliches that many are prone to use.

Unlike in previous books, Wells is not trying to save the world from impending apocalyptic doom. The plot for “The Night Ranger” is pretty straightforward and simple enough.

Four recently graduated college kids from Montana are working for an international aid organization in Kenya. On their way to an island resort for a brief respite from the squalor of the refugee camp, they are kidnapped by Somalian bandits. The kidnapping quickly makes worldwide headlines.

Enter our hero, Wells.

At the heart of the book is Wells’ relationship with his son, Evan, who is friends with the sister of one of the detainees. Hoping to reconnect with his estranged son, Wells goes to Africa to rescue the captives.

Of course, in any thriller novel, things are never easy.

Berenson, a former New York Times reporter, deftly intertwines in the plot the geo-political ramifications of the rescue. There are several competing interests at work:

There’s CIA Director Vincent Duto, who is looking to score political points in the polls as he mulls over a bid for the U.S. Senate.

There’s the egotistical director of the fictitious international aid agency, James Thompson. Berenson’s portrayal of Thompson isn’t flattering. It’s almost certainly a shot across the bow at Greg Mortenson, the infamous and controversial humanitarian and co-author of “Three Cups of Tea.”

Lastly, there are the Somalian bandits, who are just looking for a quick payday and seem to be the only party without an ulterior motive.

The four aid workers are the least interesting of all the characters — a little too predictable and somewhat annoying. You have the smokin’ hot blonde, the obnoxious, pretty-boy punk and the geek, who has a huge crush on the blonde and tries to prove himself worthy as the situation decays into chaos. Berenson does his best to make the reader care about them, but in the end, they’re just a sideshow, a means to an end, and they slow down the plot as much as they help it.

The final 100 pages, which take place over a 12-hour time period, move along at a blistering pace as Wells discovers the location and then launches a solo strike to free the hostages. Of course, Wells has the blessing of Duto and the CIA, along with all of its modern military might.

The exchanges between the curmudgeon Ellis Shafer, Well’s CIA case officer back at Langley, and Duto are priceless.

Wells’ character continues to grow three-dimensionally. Unlike the typical central character in most spy/thriller novels, Wells isn’t a Rambo-like superhero with big guns and bigger muscles. Wells, who converted to Islam in the first book, “The Faithful Spy,” is a much more complex character than one encounters in the typical spy/thriller novel. More often than not, Wells uses his brains as much as his Special Forces skills to get him out of jams, and he continues to be one of the most interesting, entertaining and compelling heroes of the genre. “The Night Ranger” shows Berenson at the top of his game.

Reviewer Andrew Miller is a sports writer for The Post and Courier.