Dead Drop

Image of Dead Drop (Handler Thriller, A)
Release Date: 
May 23, 2023
Reviewed by: 

“Dead Drop is a must-read for fans of realistic, intricately plotted espionage fiction.”

Dead Drop, the second novel in M.P. Woodward’s “Handler” series, is a fast-paced spy thriller offering readers a glimpse behind the veil of secrecy that shrouds U.S. intelligence operations. The characters are authentic and the situations they encounter are critical to U.S. national security. Woodward knows his subject matter—from geopolitics, to shifting alliances of both convenience and necessity, to the moral ambiguities of the intelligence world. Dead Drop is a must-read for fans of realistic, intricately plotted espionage fiction.

Dead Drop opens with an Israeli Mossad operation against a high-value Iranian target. The operation, which causes significant collateral damage, leads to international outrage, including from the U.S., which is in the midst of nuclear negotiations with Iran.

The Mossad, for its part, is pursuing a two-pronged strategy. It seeks to derail the nuclear negotiations with hard evidence proving that Iran-backed Hezbollah is developing a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile. Simultaneously, the Mossad is engaging in operations to obliterate Hezbollah’s efforts to develop such a weapon. To accomplish both, the Mossad pins its hopes on finding Kasem Kahlidi, an al Quds officer with intimate knowledge of Iran’s missile program. Unfortunately for the Israelis, Kahlidi is a CIA mole in U.S. custody.

John Dale and Meredith-Morris Dale are divorced CIA operations officers who have worked extensively with Kahlidi over the past several years. John, who plans to retire from the CIA, is holed up in Hawaii when Maya, a beautiful Israeli intelligence officer with whom he has a past, tracks him down. John rejects her attempts to recruit him to work for the Mossad. A physical confrontation ensues, with John managing to escape the grip of her security detail.

Back at CIA headquarters, Meredith is tasked with writing a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessing whether Hezbollah is, in fact, developing a nuclear-capable missile. Like the Mossad, she needs more information from Kahlidi about Hezbollah’s missile program. Unlike the Mossad, she has direct access to the Iranian who is being held at the CIA’s training facility (“The Farm”) near Williamsburg, Virginia.

When Meredith meets with Kahlidi, he refuses to cooperate until Kasra, the woman he loves, is brought to the U.S. Meredith convinces John to meet with Kahlidi to try to convince the Iranian to cooperate in exchange for delivering Kasra to safety. The tension ratchets up as the Israelis surveil both John and Meredith in the hope of finding Kahlidi and whisking him away to Tel Aviv. The Mossad’s brash escalation against the CIA complicates both agencies’ efforts to assess the threat posed by the Hezbollah missile program.

In Vienna, Austria, nuclear negotiations between Iran and the U.S. continue apace, with the State Department contingent eager to score a major diplomatic coup. Supporting the negotiations is Ed Rance, a CIA counterproliferation officer who was caught in flagrante delicto with a woman who turned out to be a Russian intelligence asset. Sent to Austria as punishment for his indiscretion, Rance seizes the opportunity as a chance for redemption. He establishes a back-door channel with an Iranian intelligence officer in order to advance the nuclear negotiations and thereby repair, if not elevate, his professional reputation.

The action turns to London, Beirut, and Tel Aviv as Meredith, John, Maya, Rance, and assorted other intelligence players tangle, obstruct, and obfuscate in pursuit of their individual objectives. The tension builds as characters turn on each other with each new twist of the plot. Readers, at this point, will find themselves racing through pages to find out what happens next.

Dead Drop is an exciting story that pulls the reader into the vortex of international relations, top secret intelligence operations, and the life-or-death struggle among geopolitical enemies. M.P. Woodward’s writing is taut, his actions scenes are superb, and his mastery of plot is evident from the first chapters. Spy thriller fans should add Dead Drop to their libraries and hope for Woodward to produce more novels in this genre.