Alex Berenson is a New York Times reporter by day, bestselling spy novelist by night. Earlier this year, he published his third novel, The Silent Man, featuring his super spy John Wells. I came across the book at the library a couple of weeks ago and discovered that not only is it pretty good, but it’s the rare spy novel for media junkies. At one point in the book, Wells assumes the cover of a Lebanese businessman/freedom fighter. To get into character, he tans at Solar Planet, dyes his hair and ODs on fried chicken. Fat and swarthy, Wells procures a fake passport to travel to Moscow to avenge an attack that nearly killed his girlfriend. His alias? Glenn Kramon, which also happens to be the name of Berenson’s boss and managing editor of the Times.
I asked the real Kramon whether he knew Berenson had inserted him into the novel. Turns out he’s a big fan of Berenson’s novels and has read all three. When he first discovered his name in the most recent, Kramon says he “thanked Alex for not making me the villain.” Kramon’s is not the first name Berenson has appropriated from his Times colleagues. Kramon says his favorite is that of the book’s hapless American ambassador to Russia, Walt Purdy, whose name he suspects is a hybrid of investigative reporter Walt Bogdanich and his editor, Matt Purdy. Naturally, the Times names had me wondering who else had popped up in Berenson’s novels. Perhaps there’s a Maureen Dowd cameo? Alas, Berenson says no. He only poaches names from people he knows, and he’s never met Dowd. “I have a hunch that Wells wouldn’t like her much, though,” he says. “She’s not his type.”