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Lost Son: An American Family Trapped Inside the FBI's Secret Wars

Lost Son book by Brett Forrest

An Amazon Editors' Pick: Best Nonfiction

A Foreign Policy Best Summer Reading Pick

"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

When a young American named Billy Reilly vanished into Russia's war with Ukraine, 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 U.S. 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 Forrest. Commencing a quest of his own, he 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.

Praise for Lost Son

"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

“With great skill, and deep humanity, Forrest tracks Billy as he wanders through the labyrinth of American national security and crosses a shadow line. 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

“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." ―James Risen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Last Honest Man


"Forest's emotional and globe-trotting investigation immediately reminds me of Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild." ―Bradley Hope, New York Times-bestselling co-author of Billion Dollar Whale and author of The Rebel and the Kingdom

“In a reportorial masterpiece, Forrest tracks Billy’s disappearance, 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

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