Levin offers readers a cheeky bargain: Trust the story he relates, and he in turn will introduce you to the dark powers that have caused Syria to descend into the blood bath from which, after 10 years of fighting, it has yet to escape ... In this book, now and then, certain phrases require careful parsing. On the opening page, Levin promises a 'search for a missing person in Syria.' But do these words mean that the search must take place in Syria? They do not. In this case, the closest the searcher comes to Syria is the Four Seasons in Amman ... I like bargains as much as the next person. I am keen to understand more about the dark powers in Syria. And I’m willing to believe that, from the vantage of the Four Seasons in Amman, the war in Syria could seem a game presided over by profiteers, in which everyone is on drugs and whose leaders only feign belief in God and might even dress in a diamond-studded T-shirt, as the villain in this book, a Syrian dope trafficker, does ... I suspect that if Levin had conducted at least some of his search inside Syria, reality sooner or later would have forced him to toss his game theory away. A day or so inside the country would have shown him that, there, God remains alive and well. If he had stayed a bit longer, he would have seen that on neither side of the war do the combatants require drugs or, for that matter, money in order to kill one another. Under such conditions, a search for a missing person would have tried his nerves even more than the pashas in Beirut and Amman did, but had it yielded a book, it probably would not feel, as this one does, like a novel dashed off at the hotel bar between business meetings.
Unlike in fiction, Levin’s true-life account does not promise a satisfying resolution to the story; in life, war seldom leaves room for happy endings. But whether facing tragedy through the horrors of war or through the randomness of real-life, it remains important to never give up. Levin’s story is not an easy one to experience, but it is an important one.
... [Levin] reveals the complex grammar of quid pro quo that is required for any negotiation in the region ... Despite some unnecessary digressions—e.g., the author’s story of his visit to a wealthy racist in the Virginia countryside, one with clear political clout himself, doesn’t add to the primary narrative—every moment that features the fixer named Khalid is worth the price of admission. Although Khalid has plenty of shady connections with the rich and powerful on all sides of the region’s rivalries, he also serves as one of the book’s much-needed moral compasses ... Though sometimes tangential, Levin’s narrative ably depicts the complex interactions of Middle Eastern politics.