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Lost Son: An American Family Trapped Inside the FBI's Secret Wars (Hardcover)
A Foreign Policy Best Summer Reading Pick
A young American lost in Russia. An FBI-cover up. A mystery leading from Washington to the heart of the Kremlin's war in Ukraine.
When Billy Reilly vanished, his parents embarked on a desperate search for answers. Was their son’s disappearance connected to his mysterious work for the FBI, or was it a personal quest gone wrong? Only when Wall Street Journal reporter Brett Forrest embarks on his own investigation does a picture emerge: of the FBI's exploitation of US citizens through a secretive intelligence program, a young man's lust for adventure within the world's conflicts, and the costs of a rising clash between Moscow and Washington.
Sept. 11th roused Billy Reilly's curiosity for religions, war, and the world and its people beyond his small town near Detroit. Online, Billy taught himself Arabic and Russian. His passions led him into jihadi Internet forums, attracting the interest of the FBI.
An amateur drawn into professional intelligence, Billy became a Confidential Human Source, one of thousands of civilians who assist FBI agents with investigative work, often at great hazard and with little recourse. When Russia stirred rebellion in Ukraine, Billy set out to make his mark.
In Russia, Billy's communications dropped. His parents, frantic, asked the FBI for help but struggled to find answers. Grasping for clues, the Reilly family turned to Brett Forrest. Commencing a quest of his own, Forrest applied years' worth of research, along with decades of extensive experience in Russia, illuminating the inner workings of the national-security machine that enmeshed Billy and his family, picking up the lost son's trail.
A masterwork of reporting, composed like a thriller, blending political maneuvering and international espionage, Lost Son illustrates one man's coming of age amid new global dangers.
About the Author
Brett Forrest is a national-security reporter for The Wall Street Journal, where his investigative work focuses on the former Soviet Union. In the Russo-Ukrainian war, Forrest was the first reporter to reach the town of Bucha and uncover evidence of atrocities. He is the author of Lost Son, The Big Fix (an international bestseller), and Long Bomb. Forrest shared a National Magazine Award at ESPN, where he co-directed the true-crime documentary, Pin Kings, an Emmy nominee. Forrest's international-affairs reporting has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, and National Geographic. He has lived and worked in Russia, Ukraine, Brazil, and other countries.
"With the narrative drive and filigreed detail of a spy novel, Lost Son is an uncanny feat of non-fiction: a geopolitical thriller, a detective procedural with Mobius-strip twists, and the absorbing narrative of an anguished Michigan family—a saga that gets more riveting with each page. Forrest, evoking James M. Cain and Graham Greene, offers a masterwork of intrigue and shoe-leather reportage."—Vanity Fair
“Lost Son is the harrowing story of Billy Reilly, a lost soul who, seeking meaning and purpose in life, volunteered as a civilian foot soldier in the war on terror. With great skill, and deep humanity, Brett Forrest tracks Billy's every move as he wanders through the labyrinth of American national security, crosses a shadow line, and winds up on the wrong side of history. It's a gripping story, stranger than fiction, superbly told."—Tim Weiner, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
“With the stunning tale of Billy Reilly, Brett Forrest has achieved something remarkable. He has brought together both the post-9/11 war on terror and the war in Ukraine and shown their fateful impact on a young American who wanted something more from life than suburban Detroit could deliver. Reading this amazing story, I kept thinking that Billy was like a character in a 19th-century Russian novel, caught up in the uncontrollable tide of history."—James Risen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Last Honest Man
“Lost Son grabs you from the jump and never lets go as the story careens around the globe with the velocity of a stray bullet. You’ll never forget the main character of Billy Reilly, whose unbelievable life blasts through a hall of mirrors that is modern espionage, counter-espionage, war, terrorism and the inner workings of power in Washington. This story is so insane that it can only be totally true. Brett Forrest has produced a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction about the national security state.”—Christopher Leonard, New York Times bestselling author of Kochland and The Lords of Easy Money
"Brett Forrest's emotional and globe-trotting investigation into the life and times of a young FBI freelancer immediately reminds me of Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild. Lost Son is as much about the youthful dream to make a difference in the world as it is about the utter failure of the US government to protect one of its own contractors and the heartbreaking search by parents for their son. What I loved most is feeling like I was riding shotgun with Brett as he searches for answers."—Bradley Hope, New York Times bestselling co-author of Billion Dollar Whale and author of The Rebel and the Kingdom
“A young American, desperate for purpose after 9/11, finds himself embroiled in the war on terror as a ‘keyboard commando’ for the FBI, then quickly in over his head operating undercover in the field. In a reportorial masterpiece, Forrest tracks Billy Reilly’s disappearance within the bloody conflict between Russia and Ukraine, becoming part of the story—and personally invested—himself. A mesmerizing narrative.”—Neal Bascomb, New York Times-bestselling author of The Winter Fortress and The Perfect Mile
“A complex tale of espionage and betrayal against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine… An intriguing, somber study of the manipulation of a single person in the context of big events.”—Kirkus Reviews