Feature

The Company We Keep: A Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story by Robert Baer and Dayna Baer

Former covert agents Bob and Dayna Baer, who met while on assignment in Sarajevo, have written a “breezy, often fascinating” memoir.

(Crown, $26)

“Can one find true love in the CIA?” asked Joseph Kanon in The Washington Post. For former covert agents Bob and Dayna Baer, the answer turned out to be an unequivocal yes. Dayna was a rising agent trained in weapons use, deep-cover operations, and how to kill someone using a sharp pencil when she was assigned to monitor a safe house in Sarajevo and met “Bob” (the use of last names was prohibited). Dayna and Bob were both married, but, as spies do, they eventually fell in love—after a drive along the French Riviera and a bit of hiking in the Swiss Alps. The couple’s “breezy, often fascinating” new memoir tells a dual story that’s part romance, part a collection of the kind of tradecraft details that are “catnip for any fan of espionage fiction.”

Even so, theirs is a cautionary tale about spy work’s false promises, said David Rohde in The New York Times. Both agents experienced plenty of the excitement they craved, but deep disillusionment eventually set in. For every assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein, they undertook loads of other operations whose effects were unknowable. While the couple’s days were spent, as Dayna puts it, “sucking the lifeblood” from their sources, both Dayna and Bob also became increasingly estranged from close family back home. Considering the damage their work did to “the relationships that truly matter,” it’s no wonder that, in 1997, they both walked away from “the life.”

Oddly, “the best stuff in the book has nothing to do with espionage,” said Richard Schickel in the Los Angeles Times. Because the spy tales have been scrubbed of so much detail and are told in such chipper prose, they feel “curiously weightless.” But Dayna shares a great story about a pet rabbit, and Bob is terrific at describing his “busybody” mother. The larger story finally attains “something close to suspense” when the Baers, having settled in small-town Colorado, decide to adopt a baby girl from Pakistan. Not surprisingly, these two romantics manage to make even that loving act more fraught than it needs to be.

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