Book Reviews

'KBL': Inside The Killing Of Osama Bin Laden

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Alan Cheuse has this review of KBL, John Weisman's novelization of the operation that led to Osama bin Laden's death.


The killing of Osama bin Laden was one of last year's biggest news stories. Now, a writer has crafted a novel based on the event. Alan Cheuse has this review of John Weisman's "KBL."

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: December 5, 2010, 0821 hours local time. A legless Pashto-speaking Navy Seal veteran poses as a beggar in the streets of this small Pakistani city, rolling about on a skateboard-like device as he gathers intelligence for his commanders in DEVGRU, or Naval Special Warfare Development Group. Acronyms abound in this narrative.

Back in the U.S., at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, a congressman-turned-spy chief nurtures a military operation that will have worldwide consequences. In Virginia Beach, Virginia, a SEAL team with a black mark on its record - one of their number accidentally killed a civilian they were charged with rescuing - trains hard to regain its confidence and prestige.

We follow, sometimes hour by hour, minute by minute, these strands of narrative, playing fly on the wall of numerous meetings among military and Pentagon and White House officials, which culminate in several sessions with the president, and following the Seals group as it prepares for a mission that remains to them undesignated until almost the final hour.

John Weisman specializes in what I call military procedurals, fiction based on actual events in the field. As a writer, he possesses an attribute similar to that of the congressman-turned-spy chief in this novel, something known in the military as command voice, a gift, as he describes it, linked to an extensive vocabulary and combined with a trial lawyer's ability to spellbind an audience using an articulate, contrapuntal melange of drama, wit and eloquence, sprinkled with occasional flourishes of menace or tenderness.

"KBL" may not tell the entire story of the bin Laden raid - we probably won't hear that for a long while - but spellbind, it does.

BLOCK: "KBL" is a novel by John Weisman. Our reviewer Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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