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Ministers of Fire: A Novel

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  36 ratings  ·  13 reviews
Kabul, Afghanistan, 1979: CIA station chief Lucius Burling, an idealistic but flawed product of his nation’s intelligence establishment, barely survives the assassination of the American ambassador. Burling’s reaction to the murder, and his desire to understand its larger meaning, propel him on a journey of intrigue and betrayal that will reach its ultimate end in the stre ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published April 12th 2014 by Swallow Press (first published January 1st 2012)
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Average rating 3.67  · 
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Emily Grandstaff
Apr 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing

Ministers of Fire is a literary thriller in the best sense of the term. It’s both exquisitely written, with artful prose and dialogue reminiscent of John Banville or Graham Greene, and has plot twists and a narrative drive that keep you in suspense until the last page.

Although political implications (past and present) abound between the US, Afghanistan, and China, perhaps what Saunders does best here is to take the reader into the inner workings of the minds of international spies in a way that is both humanizi/>


Nov 25, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
Disappointing: didn't like any of the characters, the plot was sometimes confusing, at the end the author apparently felt the need to explain much of the history of two of the characters--this was annoying and should have been unnecessary; many of the descriptions/comparisons seemed off base and distracting
Apr 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Full disclosure: Mark is my brother, so I may not be the most objective reviewer of this book. However, our shared history allows me to say how well he has captured the peculiar interplay between personal lives and events on the world stage experienced by those in government service and their families. As in the life we experienced growing up, family milestones for the characters in Ministers of Fire are often dated in reference to geopolitical events, and vice versa, and tensions between personal a ...more
Apr 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Ministers of Fire is a great read. It's got the fast-paced plot of a genre thriller, but it's written with the attention to language you expect from literary fiction. A Chinese dissident who holds nuclear secrets that he may or may not be interested in selling needs to be smuggled out of the country, and the Americans are both facilitating his removal and seeking to prevent it. The main actors, meanwhile, are all saddled with baggage dating back to a killing and kidnapping that occurred during the A ...more
Patrick SG
Jan 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Blurbed by Joseph Kanon and John Casey, who compared it favorably to works by le Carre and Eric Ambler, this book promised much more than I got out of it. Described as a literary thriller, there was much more literary and less that was thrilling in Ministers of Fire. The first 50 and last 100 pages or so delivered on the thrilling part, and the author delivered on that very well. When he was presenting a straight-forward narrative I was engaged by the writing. Too much of the other 200 pages in ...more
Dan Downing
Nov 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Well written in the format of the old masters: Greene, Ambler, LeCarre &c.' "Ministers of Fire" (Ref: Greene's "Ministry of Fear") has all the convolution and evil intents one could wish, well mixed in fairly modern circumstances. Since many of the players are old warriors with a history with each other it can feel as if Smiley and Karla might appear at any moment. But in this debut novel Saunders has drawn his own characters and created his own maze for them to wander through.
Jun 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
How many debut novels garner blurbs from Robert Stone, Joe Kanon, John Casey, and a starred review in Publisher's Weekly? Saunders draws on a wealth of human insight, writerly craft, and informed imagination to deliver a masterfully suspenseful story of international intrigue and its human costs. Don't miss it.
Jan 04, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
Couldn't get through this one. Made it to page 55 and packed it in. Way to many characters introduced up front without any development. Plot was plodding along without direction. I had no engagement with any of the characters and the dialog was pretentious and obtuse. Comparisons to le Carre and Ambler are laughable.
Bruce Holsinger
Sep 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A smart and gripping CIA thriller. Absolutely loved it.
Patrick Schultheis
Dec 17, 2012 rated it liked it
Just ok. Good characters. Ok plot. Did not like the prose - it wandered too much and was too wordy
Mar 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Never actually knew what was going on in this story. Nice writing style--like John le Carre when he was at his most impenetrable. Never actually knew who were the good guys OR the bad guys.
I had to return this to the library midway through. I have to say I seem to have a mental block about remembering who's who with Chinese names. I'd like to give this one a go some other time.
Jim Jewell
Sep 05, 2013 rated it liked it
well written and interesting literary thriller but was not much fun and left too many loose ends
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Mark Harril Saunders was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area. The son of a diplomat, he holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Virginia, where he was a Henry Hoyns Fellow. Since childhood, he has traveled extensively in Europe, the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, and China. Saunders has worked on Capitol Hill, at several bookstores, as a carpenter, a ...more