It’s 1979 and Morgan O’Reilly, a dispirited CIA desk officer, is desperately trying to bury his memories. Sent to Cambodia as a Marine and then as a CIA operative during the Vietnam War, he had been given the unlikely task of pulling together a secret spy unit of orphaned street children. At the end of the war, he was only able to get one child out of the country, his surrogate son, Sophal. Years later, Sophal, now a CIA agent, disappears on a secret mission in the Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand.
Tom Dillon, the dashing young superstar of the White House foreign policy staff, asks O’Reilly to find Sophal and bring him home. O’Reilly’s search takes him deeper and deeper into the politics of the Thai-Cambodian border and finally into the deadly Khmer Rouge zone—a place where all foreigners are forbidden from entering and where cruelty and death are omnipresent.
Filled with the fascinating workings of the refugee camps, the life or death politics of Washington, DC, and the inner workings of the personalities that are drawn to such extreme circumstances, The Depths of the Sea is a thriller that both entertains and educates.
Acclaim for The Depths of the Sea (when first published in 2004)
“Set in war-torn Cambodia in the 1970s, this distinctive debut spy novel tells a riveting tale of honor, political deception and moral responsibility. In 1971, CIA officer Morgan O’Reilly, 27, takes on a strange assignment: he’s required to amass a contingent of undercover spies from the resourceful ‘ragged children’ of the Phnom Penh streets. His ragtag group turns out to be surprisingly successful, and they become as much a family as a team. Young, astute orphan Sophal comes closest to O’Reilly’s heart and gratefully teaches him Cambodian slang and various street smarts, but when the Americans abandon the area, O’Reilly must leave his kids behind-all except Sophal, now 18, who is spirited back to the States and enrolled in CIA field school. Eight years later, depressed, desk-bound O’Reilly is dispatched back to Cambodia by hotshot CIA officer Tom Dillon to investigate the sudden disappearance of Sophal, who has since climbed the ranks of the CIA and recently been assigned to the Thai-Cambodian border. As O’Reilly scours the refugee camps unsuccessfully, he encounters several humanitarian aid workers whose stories become bound up with his. When his search lands everyone deep within the treacherous Khmer Rouge border zone, the real reasons O’Reilly has been sent to Cambodia become harrowingly clear. Based on his personal experiences working in Cambodia, Metzl has crafted a thrilling, authentically atmospheric tale. Though the gloomy storm clouds of international politics hover incessantly, this suspenseful, tightly plotted novel makes for a luminous debut.
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— Publishers Weekly
“The political power and poetry of Graham Greene and Charles McCarry pervade this superlative thriller set in the chaos of Vietnam and Cambodia.”
— Chicago Tribune
“Jamie Metzl has written a powerful novel of hope that combines a fresh voice with an intelligent, exciting, and fast-paced story. His characters come alive as they try desperately to stay on course in the muddled, violent landscape of the Thai-Cambodian refugee camps. He has drawn a vivid and compelling portrait of a region and a people struggling to recover from years of war.”
— Joseph R. Biden
“Jamie Metzl is the rare novelist who can draw upon realworld experiences as both an aidworker and a White House official. In The Depths of the Sea, Metzl has given us a gripping and vivid thriller that leads readers on a trail of gun-running, Cold War intrigue, betrayal, and moral ambiguity. Metzl reminds us that the costs of U.S. interventions and retreats are lived one individual at a time.”
— Samantha Power
“In The Depths of the Sea, Jamie Metzl has succeeded in combining an entertaining thriller with a fascinating look at the dark political history of Southeast Asia. He is a writer of astonishing erudition and talent. A tour de force.”
— Richard Holbrooke