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The Company We Keep is Good Company

April 6, 2011

The Company We Keep
Robert and Dayna Baer
305 pages, library book

The Company We Keep is an interesting spy yarn that balances intelligence gathering and international intrigue with fast-paced danger, and also the slow tedium of day to day relationship building and bureaucracy management, that is a more “real” sense of the CIA’s inner workings than any accumulated action-film mythos would have you believe.

In the first two thirds or so of the book, that’s certainly true. Especially in Dayna’s chapters about learning CIA skills like shooting, and sneaking through buildings, there’s a satisfying amount of cinematic action. Particularly in the latter half of the book, it’s also a more nuanced discussion of international politics- in the context of informants, missions, intelligence, and what governments are willing to say to one another.

As much as I was delighted to get two interwoven insiders’ perspectives, there were elements that felt rushed, or possibly sketched in and glossed over. Sure, you could say some of the vague spots had to be vague so as not to divulge CIA secrets… but it does stand as a contrast to the excellent descriptions of certain missions, certain informant relationships, or aspects of the way their spy training works.
The contrast between Dayna’s side of the story and Bob’s mission reports highlights the gaps in description- by tracking her training from the start, and having Bob only tell his story of being a seasoned operative on multiple missions, he sounds almost too sure of himself, like the kind of action hero who’s so untouchable his danger doesn’t feel that frightening. And in some instances, Bob recounts events with such detachment, his perspective is spooker than the events themselves.
I can’t tell whether, for him, that’s a reflection of his personality, his career, or a choice he’s made in storycraft.

Whatever the reasons behind the shift in style, I found Dayna’s chapters more interesting. There was more of a sense of her humanness, of her understanding of the dangerous aspects of her mission. I hadn’t expected it to be so important to me to read her understanding of consequences and danger. I’ve come away with an entirely plausible sense that both former agents and their colleagues are a breed apart- the sort of people who seek dangerous situations and thrive on peril. As someone who takes a dim view of roller coasters, I can’t even fathom some of the situations the two agents saw as just another day’s work.

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