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by Gerald Seymour
Bantam Press, March 2004
400 pages
ISBN: 0593052587

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Gerald Seymour is nothing if not prolific. I counted 21 novels listed inside the cover of THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER (which made 22). From his first published novel, HARRY'S GAME, released in 1975, Seymour has steadily been adding to the archive of 'hard' suspense and mystery fiction. One could say he is to suspense fiction what Larry Niven, say, is to science fiction. He is a former reporter for ITN in the UK and the skills and information learned then have since stood him in good stead. He does not, however, rest on his laurels but continues to keep up to date with what is happening, politically and militarily, in the world around him.

THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER proceeds at Seymour's customary hectic, yet well thought out, pace. It encompasses a large array of characters but the most prominent -- and enigmatic -- of all is Caleb. Caleb is the Unknown. He has spent two years in Guantanamo Bay posing as a taxi driver, Fawzi al-Ateh. Al-Ateh had been killed, as had his family previously, but the attack that saw his demise caused other deaths, including that of the Chechen who had recruited Caleb for service to Al Qaeda.

Displaying incredible self-control, Caleb spends his time at Guantanamo never once betraying that he is other than an innocent driver caught up unawares in the violence that plagues the world subsequent to the attacks of September 11 2001. He hides his knowledge of English and other languages spoken at the camp, only responding to what al-Ateh would understand. It is not until a goodly portion of the tale has been told that Caleb's race and origins are revealed to the reader.

Caleb escapes when being escorted from Guantanamo then travels with a strange trio of characters -- Hosni, Fahd and Tommy -- across the Empty Quarter in the desert in Saudi Arabia. They are led by a guide and his son. At the other end of their route there is a Samsonite suitcase awaiting Caleb, a suitcase which is destined to bring death to westerners.

Other people are caught up in the tale -- there is a ne'er-do-well doctor, a man who fled Britain lest he be struck off the medical register, a woman who lives in the Kingdom while doing geological research, an official from Guantanamo, a duo who operate unmanned high-tech seek-and-destroy aircraft, and various spymasters. The lives these people lead are given in unpleasant detail. All are eventually involved in one role or another with Caleb's trek through the desert.

The story is extremely topical, as are all Seymour's narratives without exception when they are released. He appears to have an uncanny knowledge of the secret workings of authority at various levels. His characters are very realistic and convincing as are the situations about which he writes. He is a master at concealment and the reader is held in suspense until the very last page.

Reviewed by Denise Wels Pickles, March 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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