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“Just as there are phantom limbs there are phantom histories, histories that are severed and discarded, but linger on as thwarted possibilities and compelling nostalgia.” (Adam Philiips, On Balance)

Churchill said that the Balkans produce more history than it could consume. The Croats, the Serbs, the Ottomans, all had their periods of glory. Religion accentuates the differences: respectively, Christian, Orthodox and Muslim. The Paris Peace Conference after World War I ignored reality on the ground. World War II refashioned boundaries, and then more recently the Dayton Agreement cobbled a peace deal together. All imperfect. Politics is local, and family massacres are remembered and revenged. Pick your poison: Srebrenica for the Bosnians; Jasenovc for the Serbs; Vukovar for the Croats.

Matthew Palmer’s “The Wolf of Sarajevo” is a political thriller that imagines another slide into the Balkan abyss. Here Serbian nationalists would undo Dayton and persecutes the Bosniaks again.

The author is a U.S. State Department foreign officer who had been posted to Belgrade during the height of the Bosnian war. He knows the venue. Although heroic, as political thrillers may be, the novel is grounded in the history and politics of the region. It is fast paced and entertaining.

Unsurprisingly, a State Department official, operating somewhat rogue, is the hero. The State Department and the U.S. Defense departments its related agencies view each other with some disdain. This is evidenced in the novel, although bureaucracies and politicians are the principal villains. To achieve success, operating outside the lines is requisite. This is a tradition in this genre. There are no James Bond types, but the novel errs on the side of fiction. It is meant to be a fun read and is.

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