There is a good deal of fumbling and no little intrigue, but nothing as compelling as the forces that moved Levinson to take the extraordinary risk that he did. In his emails and in the accounts of others, he emerges as an aging and cash-strapped former G-man who had a bunch of kids in college, and hopes of returning to the hurly-burly by impressing his enabler at the CIA, which Levinson calls 'the pickle factory' ... Constructed as a nonfiction thriller, Missing Man is at its core a tragedy, Death of a Salesman in the Persian Gulf.
Barry Meier’s book, Missing Man, provides more than enough information to make sense of Mr. Levinson’s tragic trip to Kish, a freewheeling entrepôt where Americans may visit without visas and where Iranian security forces seized the American, imprisoned him, and taunted his family and former colleagues with pictures of him disheveled and wasting away. Mr. Meier, a New York Times reporter who has covered this story for years, limns a depressing picture of the amateurish, voracious intelligence appetites of some in the CIA ... Mr. Meier respectfully lays out Mr. Levinson’s culpability without damning him. Most of all, the journalist goes after the negligence of the CIA, which eventually paid Mrs. Levinson more than $2 million in compensation for what happened to her husband.
Meier is a prize-winning, thoughtful journalist who has followed this story closely and written about it extensively in the New York Times. Which is a good thing, because the cast of shadowy characters and cameo appearances makes the convoluted story tough to follow. Questionable players with questionable agendas create such a sordid tale that the only people you feel for are Levinson’s heartbroken family. While Meier knows the details intimately, the reader needs more signposts.
Missing Man is an artful piece of investigative reporting. There is not a wealth of original material, but Meier has finely choreographed Bob Levinson’s story, and brought it into the light from the shadow world where most US governmental agencies seem to have wish it had stayed. Meier’s style is brio and dash, always with a trail of crumbs, while handfuls of grit and episodes of hateful behavior are thrown in for texture.
...exposes the storied workings of global spycraft as run by a largely improvised, and oddly random, ensemble of bit players, striving to project some larger meaning onto what are, at bottom, all-too-mundane transactions ... Just how he disappeared is never made clear, but Missing Man leaves ample room for speculation. In fact, having read this fascinating, convoluted book, I can’t tell you much of anything with certainty about the case of Bob Levinson other than some preliminary details. Narratively, the book is strongest in its first third, in which Meier establishes Levinson as the hero of our story: a retired FBI agent bored with corporate investigations after a swashbuckling career building cases against the Mafia, South American drug cartels, and Russian organized crime ... [The] shaggy-dog litany of power players drives home still another peculiar point about Missing Man: For all the money and power at stake in this underworld of global resource-and-espionage intrigue, the story of the missing man is ultimately the story of absurd connections between the world’s elites and their minions.