Pam Jenoff


"Almost Home"

(Reviewed by Jana Perskie MAR 20, 2009)

"Suddenly everything comes together. All eight oars catch in perfect unison, buried to exactly even heights. Legs lock and drive back against the water and the boat sails, seems to soar really, and fly forward. I hold my breath as the boys recover, willing them to do it again. The boat leaps once more, even stronger and more smoothly, perfectly synchronized strokes falling into rhythm now. My heart lifts as the distance between our bow and Trinity Hall's stern closes. We are doing it. But we came close the previous two days also, only to fall away. Can we actually do it this time?"

Jordan Weiss is a US State Department intelligence officer, who, over the course of her relatively brief career, has seen a lot of action. From Colombia, to Liberia, she performed superbly on a series of
dangerous assignments, put her life at risk on several occasions, and lost some friends and colleagues along the way. Nothing seems to discompose her, however, as much as a life-shattering event which took place ten years earlier, as she was graduating from Cambridge.

Jordan was at her happiest then, comparing her period at university in England to an idyllic life at Camelot. She was the coxswain of a close knit team of eight and the only female crew member. She and her Cambridge team spent considerable time training, bonding, rowing and looking to win the big race - the "Bumps"- and become the Headship. Jared Short, Jordan's intense boyfriend, was also a crew member. He drowned in the River Cam, the night before their biggest race. She was devastated and left school immediately, refusing to look back upon what are the most painful memories of her life. She never returned to England, nor did she keep up ties with school friends, especially her fellow crew members who were once so important to her. And she never fell in love again.

There is one friend from back then, however, whom she never lost touch with. Sarah. The two women shared all their good times, and supported each other through the bad ones, especially the very bad one. Sarah is like a sister and they have kept in touch, over the years, by letter and telephone. Jordan is coming off a year's desk duty in D.C. when she receives a letter from Sarah, who is terminally ill with Lou Gehrig's disease. She lives in London, and though she would never ask Jordan to come, she does mention that she would love to see her. Jordan feels a strong need to be there for the friend who was always there for her. She immediately requests a transfer to London, and gets it. Apparently Foggy Bottom's bureaucracy has improved considerably.

The evening she arrives in London, jet-lagged Jordan is required to attend an embassy cocktail party - part of her job description. There she sees Deputy Chief of Mission, Maureen Martindale, a longtime friend, and now her boss. She also meets charismatic Sebastian Hodges from London's SOCA, (Serious Organized Crime Agency). Maureen is to head a group, which includes Sebastian, Jordan, and Sophie Dawson, a young woman who specializes in international finance and is fluent in Arabic. They are going to work a particularly important case concerning Albanian organized crime. "Over the past few years, the Albanian mob has grown to be a major player in underground criminal activity throughout Europe. In Britain, they're edging out other groups including the Turks and the Russians. They now dominate all areas of the black market: drugs, weapons, prostitution." The team's task is to find the people/organizations who are funding and laundering for the Albanians. One of the corporations under investigation is Infodyne, a British subsidiary of a large American company. When Jordan scans the list of possible contacts within the company, she spots the name of "Duncan Lauder," a school friend who also rowed at one of Cambridge's colleges.

Chris Bannister, yet another oarsman, and former best friend to both Jared and Jordan, discovers she is back in town. He asks to see her with some urgency. Over dinner, Chris tells the already overwhelmed Jordan that he suspects Jared did not drown...his death may not have been accidental. Jared may have been murdered. And she hasn't even unpacked her bags yet!!

As Jordan simultaneously works the Albanian case and investigates Jared's suspicious death, she finds herself swept-up in a tangled and deadly web of intrigue, increasingly unsure of whom she can trust.

Well, on the upside, I read the novel through and, at times, found it compelling. Pam Jenoff is at her best when describing the rowing, the racing. The very sport seems to exhilerate her, and this come through in her prose. The plot, however, contains too many coincidences and inconsistencies. The various storylines are too neatly tied together at the end. And Jordan is a real contradiction. This young woman weathered violence and warfare in the line of duty and is accustomed to keeping a cool head and making sound decisions. She's a professional. Right? But this lady is into hysteria, big-time. She not only loses her cool but loses her lunch at least twice within twenty-four hours after arriving in London. C'mon, she IS supposed to be a professional, and a grown-up. Plus, one assumes she passed the Civil Service psychological tests.

Jordan also needs a course in time management. She is really scattered, moving around on whim rather than by plan. She rushes from one investigation to another, from Cambridge to London, seemingly with little rhyme or reason. Also, she frequently forgets her gun, when she most needs it. Is "Jordan Weiss," and "intelligence officer" an oxymoron?

I must admit that I was hooked enough to keep reading, so I won't warn anyone off this one. It's a 3 star novel that could easily have made it to 4 stars with better editing and more work on character development.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 36 reviews


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About the Author:

Pam JenoffPam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England.

Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.

Following her work at the Pentagon, Jenoff moved to the State Department. In 1996 she was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. It was during this period that Pam developed her expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust. Working on matters such as preservation of Auschwitz and the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, Jenoff developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community.

Having left the Foreign Service in 1998 to attend law school at the University of Pennsylvania, Jenoff is now employed as an attorney in Philadelphia.

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