A riveting spy thriller, Jericho's Fall is the spellbinding story of a young woman running for her life from shadowy government forces.
In a secluded mountain retreat, Jericho Ainsley, former CIA director and former secretary of defense, is dying of cancer. To his bedside he has called Rebecca DeForde, a young, single mother, who was once his lover. Instead of simply bidding farewell, however, Ainsley imparts an explosive secret and DeForde finds herself thrown into a world of international intrigue, involving ex-CIA executives, local police, private investigators, and even a US senator. With no one to trust, DeForde is suddenly on the run, relying on her own wits and the lessons she learned from Ainsley to stay alive.
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Stephen L. Carter’s brilliant debut, The Emperor of Ocean Park, spent eleven week son the New York Times best-seller list. Now, in Jericho’s Fall, Carter turns his formidable talents to the shadowy world of spies, official secrecy, and financial fraud in a thriller that rivets the reader’s attention until the very last page.
In an imposing house in the Colorado Rockies, Jericho Ainsley, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency and a Wall Street titan, lies dying. He summons to his beside Beck DeForde, the younger woman for whom he threw away his career years ago, miring them both in scandal. Beck believes she is visiting to say farewell. Instead, she is drawn into a battle over an explosive secret that foreign governments and powerful corporations alike want to wrest from Jericho before he dies.
An intricate and timely thriller that plumbs the emotional depths of a failed love affair and a family torn apart by mistrust, Jericho’s Fall takes us on a fast-moving journey through the secretive world of intelligence operations and the meltdown of the financial markets. And it creates, in Beck DeForde, an unforgettable heroine for our turbulent age.
A Q&A with Stephen L. Carter
Question: Jericho's Fall is a departure from your previous novels. What made you decide to turn your attention to a spy thriller?
Stephen L. Carter: I was ready for a change of pace. My other novels have been large—as the reviewers like to say, multi-layered. I wanted to try a short, straightforward page turner, a book to be read for the sheer pleasure of the story. Thrillers are fun to read, and, as I discovered, they are also lots of fun to write. If readers like Jericho's Fall, I expect I will write more of them.
Question: In your "Author's Note" you write that "the problem of mental illness among intelligence professionals is often said to be endemic." This link between intelligence work and madness is certainly born out in your character Jericho Ainsley. Why do you think this link exists and is this what drew you to Jericho's story?
Stephen L. Carter: In researching my previous novel, Palace Council, I became fascinated by the problem of mental illness in the intelligence community, an issue much-commented on in the 1960s and 1970s, mainly because of James Jesus Angleton, whose paranoia when he ran counter-intelligence at the CIA nearly tore the place apart. I thought that structuring a story around an ex-spy who was losing his mind might provide a nice hook, and the rest just followed.
Question: Jericho is former Director of the CIA, former Secretary of Defense, former White House National Security Advisor ("former everything" as you refer to him). You seem equally interested in how his career affected not only him but his family and in particular his ex-lover Rebecca DeForde ("Beck"). Why did you decide to make Beck the center of the story?
Stephen L. Carter: My first novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park, dealt in part with what happens to the family of a man who is embittered after losing a tough confirmation battle for the Supreme Court. Here, I thought about the men in public life who have been brought down (or nearly brought down) by their relationships with women. We always find out what happened to the men, but rarely what happened to the women. In Beck DeForde, I wrote a character who was once "the other woman" to a famous man, and has had to rebuild her life after their tempestuous relationship ended. The idea of drawing her into the conspiratorial web surrounding her ex-lover was irresistible.
Question: Have you always been fascinated with the idea of spies and secrets?
Stephen L. Carter: It is not spying itself that interests me, it is the people who do it. I have done some reading about the toll that intelligence work takes on families, and here I have tried to imagine it fictionally.
As to secrets, I teach a course at Yale Law School on secrets and the law. We build powerful walls to keep secrets, and most of them are probably not worth keeping. Those that are, sooner or later tend to leak through the wall. No doubt there are some secrets that should be kept, but classification and national security tempt those in power to keep in the darkness acts and words that should be dragged into the light. One rule of thumb I wish all officials would follow is this: Don't do anything you're not willing to defend in your memoirs.
Question: What sort of research did this novel require? Did you have to investigate the history of the CIA? What it's like to work in the intelligence community? Interrogation techniques? Did your research into the intelligence community unearth any surprises?
Stephen L. Carter: I did a lot of research about the CIA, its history, its structure, its personalities, as well as about various mental illnesses. One thing that struck me was how much mental illness there has been, historically, near the top of the Agency. I mentioned Angleton. Frank Wisner, the father of the clandestine services, had a nervous breakdown while on the job. There are other, smaller stories, as well.
(Photo © Elena Seibert)Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Darkness bore down on her as the car shuddered up the mountain. Distant lights danced at the edge of her vision, then vanished. Beck wondered how bad it would be. In her mind, she saw only the Jericho she had loved fifteen yeas ago and, in some ways, still did: the dashing scion of an old New England family that had provided government officials since the Revolution. One of his ancestors had a traffic circle named for him in Washington. A cousin served in the Senate. The family’s history was overwhelming; the Jericho for whom Beck had fallen had certainly overwhelmed her. He had been brilliant, and powerful, and confident, and fun, ever ready with eternal wisdom, or clever barbs. She did not like to think of that mighty man ravaged by disease. She had no illusions. She remembered what cancer had done to her own father.
Whatever was waiting, she had to go.
On Saturday afternoon, having cleared her decks with Pfister, Beck took the shuttle from Boston to Washington. She lived in Virginia, a stone’s throw from Reagan National Airport. Her daughter was at a church retreat, church being a thing that Beck did because she had been raised that way, and her mother would be offended if Rebecca dared differ. Beck decided to let Nina stay the night with the other kids. The two of them could ride together to the airport on Sunday, then enplane for their different destinations. Rebecca’s mother, Jacqueline, had been after her for weeks to send Nina for a visit, and maybe this was the time. The child was only in second grade; missing a few days of instruction would do her no harm. Beck hesitated, then made the inevitable call to Florida, to ask if her mother could look after Nina. The conversation soon turned into a battle.
I don’t know how you could even think about taking a six-year-old to visit a man like that.
I’m not taking her, Mom. That’s why I’m calling you.
You said you decided not to take her. That means you thought about it. I don’t understand how your mind works sometimes.
She tried, and failed, to remember a time when she and her mother had not been at odds. Because, in the eyes of her eternally disappointed mother, Beck would never be more than ten years old. Certainly their animosity predated Jericho; and perhaps it had played some sort of role (as every one of the therapists Rebecca had consulted over the years seemed to think) in her falling in love, as a college sophomore, with a married man thirty-two years her senior who tossed away his remarkable career in order to possess her.
I appreciate your help, Mom.
Oh, so you appreciate me now. Does that mean you’ll call more often?
But Beck rarely called anybody. She was not the calling sort. She lived in a cookie-cutter townhouse in Alexandria, along with her daughter and the cat, and when she was not homemaking or child-rearing she was working. Her mother had married young, and was supported by her husband until the day he died. Beck’s marriage had lasted less than two years. The thing with Jericho had ruined Rebecca for men, her mother insisted; and maybe it was true. Her mother was full of certitudes about the errors of others, and for the next few days would fill Nina’s mind with her fevered dogmas. Hating herself, Beck had put her daughter on the plane to Florida anyway; and Nina, cradling the cat carrier, had marched regally into the jetway, never turning her head for a final wave, because she was a lot more like her grandmother than like her mother.
Or maybe not. Rebecca herself had been a feisty child, curious and willful and prepared at any moment to be disobedient. She had always pretended that she was fine without her mother, perhaps because her mother spent so much time insisting on the opposite. Her rebelliousness had led her into trouble all her life, including at her pricey private high school, where a protest against the dress code had led to a suspension; and at Princeton, where a star wide receiver tried to have his way with the reluctant freshman and wound up with a broken nose for his troubles, missing half the season. A year later, she had wound up in Jericho’s bed. Maybe Nina was not like her grandmother at all, but simply a younger version of Beck—a possibility too scary to contemplate.
Lights on her tail. Was she being followed?
A wiser woman, Beck told herself, would have dismissed such a notion as the sort of nonsense that always sneaked into her head when she thought about Jericho. In the chilly night hours on a lonely and lightless mountain road, however, when the same pair of headlights kept slipping in and out of the fog, it was easier to be fearful than wise.
She accelerated—no easy matter for the little rental car—and the headlights vanished. She slowed to round a curve, and they were behind her again.
“How do you know they’re the same headlights?” she sneered.
She just knew. She knew because the years had slipped away and she was back in Jericho’s world, a world where a canoodling couple at the next table in a restaurant at a resort in Barbados meant you were under surveillance, where the maid at the Ritz planted bugs in the bedroom, where unexpected cars in the middle of the Yucatán were packed with terrorists ready to exact revenge for your earnest defense of your country.
She reminded herself that Jericho’s paranoia no longer guided her life, but her foot pressed harder anyway, and the little car shuddered ahead. She shot down into the valley and passed through half a town. It began to snow. She climbed again, breasted the rise, went around a curve, and suddenly was suspended in nothing.
No headlights behind her, no road in front of her.
Then she almost drove over the cliff.
Things like that happened in the Rockies, not metaphorically but in reality, especially in the middle of the night, when you daydreamed your way into an unexpected nighttime snowstorm—unexpected because in Beck’s corner of the country, the worst that ever happened in April was rain. At ten thousand feet, as she was beginning to remember, the weather was different. One moment, hypnotized by the cone of her headlights as it illuminated the shadowy road ahead and the dark trees rushing by on either side, Beck was gliding along, totting up the errors of her life; then, before she realized what was happening, heavy flakes were swirling thickly around her, and the road had vanished.
Rebecca slowed, then slewed, the front end mounting an unseen verge, the rear end fishtailing, but by then her winter smarts had returned, and she eased the wheel over in the direction of the skid. The car swiveled and bumped and came to rest ten yards off the road. She sat still, breath hitching. No headlights behind her, or up on the road, or anywhere else.
“False alarm,” Beck muttered, furious at herself for having let Jericho back into her head, gleefully whispering his mad cautions.
She set the brake and opened the door and found, to her relief, that she was not in a ditch or a snowbank. She could back the car uphill onto the tarmac. But turning around would be easier, if there was room. Shivering as the cold leached into her fashionable boots, she squinted ahead, checking to make sure that she had room enough. The whirl of snow was slowing. She had trouble judging the distance. The beams of her headlights were swallowed up by a stand of conifers dead ahead, but there was plenty of room. Except, when she looked again, the trees were a forest, and miles away, on the other side of a steep gorge. Her toes skirted the edge. She shuffled backward. Had she tried to turn around instead of backing up, she would likely have gone over.
There in a nutshell was life since Jericho: backing up and backing up, never taking chances. One plunge over the cliff was enough for any life.
Beck stood at the edge and peered into the yawning darkness. High up on the opposite slope, she could pick out what had to be the lights of Jericho’s vast house. His family wealth had purchased the property, and the scandal of their relationship had sentenced him to life imprisonment within. She had dropped out of college. He had dropped out of much more. She did the arithmetic, all the presidential ears into which he had whispered his devious advice. She remembered the year they met, the start of his indefinite sabbatical from public life, spent among the lawns of Princeton, the hushed and reverent tones in which the faculty murmured Jericho’s name. She remembered how his seminars were interrupted almost weekly by protesters branding him a war criminal; and the relish with which he had baited his young accusers, demanding that they explain which of the regimes he was alleged to have overthrown they would have preferred to preserve, and why.
Since leaving government service, Jericho had published half a dozen books on international politics, but nobody cared any more. Hardly anyone remembered who he was, or had been. Not two months ago, she had found his recent nine-hundred-page tome on the achievement of peace in the Middle East remaindered at Barnes & Noble, going for three dollars and ninety-nine cents.
Her cell phone vibrated on her hip. Beck was surprised. Usually there was no service up here, but every now and then one found a patch of mountain digitally linked to the rest of the world. She fished the phone from her jacket. The screen said the number was unknown. When she answered, she got a blast of static in her ear, followed by a whine like a fax signal. Annoyed, she cut off the call. The phone immediately rang again, another unknown number, the same screech in her ear. No third ring. She decided to test her momentary connectedness by checking her messages, but when she tried she had no bars.
So how had whoever it was called her? She walked back and forth in the clearing, but found no service anywhere.
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