Not only was he less sure now of the difference between their crimes, but there was also this other side to it, the love these people here in Lisbon felt for a man who the world viewed, with good reason, as a monster. Who would speak for Wes in such a way? One person, maybe, and she had died for it.
I’ve become a fan of Kevin Wignall’s novels, but I’ve never liked one of them as much as I like his latest, The Names of the Dead. Other readers are likely to have different opinions, but this one worked for me.
James “Wes” Wesley is a former CIA agent, abandoned by the agency and now languishing in a French prison for war criminals. He’s not quite innocent, but not as guilty as the world thinks. His best friend is Patrice, an African and former commander of God’s Own Army, a very real and vicious (ostensibly Christian) terrorist group. Patrice is repentant, and spends much of his time studying the Bible. He shares his wisdom with Wes, but Wes remains skeptical.
Then news comes that Wes’s ex-wife has been murdered. Also, their son (whom Wes didn’t know about) has gone missing. Wes gets compassionate early release. His former CIA colleagues try to kill him, but he manages to escape. Then he’s rescued, more or less, by a young woman. She is Mia, the granddaughter of one of Wes’s fellow prisoners, recently deceased, a Croatian war criminal. Mia is on the autism spectrum and doesn’t care to be touched, so there’s no question of romance. But she has nowhere to go and likes to drive (stopping frequently to visit cathedrals), so they form an unlikely team as they travel across Spain, Portugal, France, and on into the Balkans.
Wes’s plan is simple and limited – he will find the men who framed him, and kill them. Then he will find his son.
But on the way, guided by the Bible Patrice gave him as a going-away present, Wes will learn to see himself in new ways. And in the end he will make the hardest decision of his life – and the most right.
I have no knowledge of author Wignall’s faith or lack of it, and it would be wrong to call The Names of the Dead a Christian novel. But it’s a book that takes Scripture seriously, and in a positive way. The questions Wes struggles with – about human connections, personal choices, and moral good – resonated for this reader. I recommend The Names of the Dead highly.