Lee Carruthers is sent to Fez, Morocco to find out what became of Alicia Harmon, a CIA analyst who has gone missing while investigating a potential new source of terrorist funds. So begins The Spider Catchers, Marilynn Larew’s first novel that deals with the battle between the CIA and terrorism.
Carruthers bemoans receiving the new mission so quickly after just returning from Baghdad. However, she heads back into the field without much persuasion. Once in Fez, she meets with a hostile reception. Each answer she finds only leads to more questions as to why Harmon believes an untouchable Islamic politician is funding a new group of terrorists. Carruthers is methodical in the way she follows each lead, always taking the next logical path.
While several characters play only incidental bit roles, Larew works hard to ensure between bombings and stakeouts that Carruthers’ important contacts are emphasized. Still, certain characters are sometimes lost in her sea of informants. The plot never falters, even when Alicia Harmon’s motivations are completely obscure to both Carruthers and the reader. The world is real with none of the antiseptic frequently found to ease the burden that comes with reading about terrorism.
Readers who love a clandestine novel will be pleased with the way Larew weaves her mystery. She allows Lee Carruthers to gather hints and suspicions, but keeps the overarching web of conspiracy shrouded as she builds the tension. A dash of romance coupled with a healthy splash of righteous anger, and The Spider Catchers carries itself quite well. As Carruthers closes in on what Harmon is investigating, the attacks on her become more frequent. She has only a few trusted contacts to rely on, the majority of whom can only be trusted as long as she can pay them.
The relentless determination with which Carruthers pursues her problems drives The Spider Catchers. Balancing between someone who wants out of Agency life, and someone who cannot stand the atrocities around her, Carruthers focuses on the task at hand with an impressive single-mindedness and a sharp tongue that leaves conservative Moroccans white-knuckled.
The investigation into a CIA operation, and the suspicion between clandestine agencies places the reader in the same whirlwind of confusion Carruthers deals with on a regular basis. Each clue frustrates and worries the reader as much as it does her. Only in certain moments, as she narrates safely from the future, does Carruthers drop hints and foreshadows. Occasionally the glimpses of the future feel heavy handed, but in most cases they skillfully guide the reader to see clues that might otherwise be missed.
The Spider Catchers works well within its spy-thriller genre, always maintaining the mystery of what happened to Alicia Harmon at the forefront. The slow clicking into place of all the pieces is a delight, and Carruthers oblivious attitude towards her own nature makes her quite the narrator. This book was a solid read, and the onset of a sequel is cause for excitement.