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by Andy McNab
Bantam, November 2004
400 pages
ISBN: 0593050282

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Such biography of Andy McNab as is to be found on the Net almost qualifies as a thriller in its own right. I wondered just how old McNab was when he joined the infantry in 1976. He was described as being then 'a child soldier'. One assumes he wasn't terribly old when he became a member of the SAS in 1984. He saw operations in the Middle and Far East, South and Central America and Northern Ireland. During the first Gulf War, McNab was taken prisoner for six weeks and tortured horrifically.

It amazes me that he is able to think back to his experiences in order to profit from them in his current life as a thriller writer. BRAVO TWO ZERO and IMMEDIATE ACTION are his account of his command of his eight-man covert patrol unit and his autobiography, respectively. Both featured on bestseller lists -- and no wonder.

The first few chapters of DEEP BLACK comprise a flashback to Bosnia in 1994. Nick Stone is on a special mission intended, so Nick thinks, to assassinate the CiC of the Bosnian Serb army, Ratko Mladic. On his way to the location of the action, Nick befriends a little girl, Zina, and an older woman. Zina is shivering in the intense cold, so Nick gives her his red jacket. They are making their way to Sarajevo, a destination Nick silently deplores.

While waiting to call the jet and bomb, which is to kill Mladic, Nick watches, with horror, the abuse by the Serb soldiers of their Muslim prisoners. A bearded Muslim, whom Nick dubs 'Beardilocks', appears on the scene and against all apparent odds, rescues some of the prisoners. Some women are left behind, presumably for the amusement of Mladic's men. Zina is one of those girls. To increase the horror, Nick sees Zina killed. He feels that the red jacket made Zina an easier target for her murderers. Then he is told the mission is aborted -- and Mladic continues to live.

The time switches to October 2003 and the location to Washington DC . Nick has been reliving the past horrors in an appointment with a psychiatrist, Ezra, working for George, a spymaster who is Nick's current employer. Nick is sickened by his work and by George, to whom he proffers his resignation -- which is refused.

Nick attends a photographic exhibition portraying the very horrors he has been reliving, including pictures of Zina and Beardilocks. While there, he is accosted by Muslim Jeral, whose life he had saved when the two were in Bosnia. Jeral invites him to his home where he meets Jeral's wife, Renee and baby daughter ChloŽ. Jeral is a photographer and intends going to Baghdad where, before settling down to a regular job in the US, he wants to make a last attempt to get a really great photograph that will make his name. His intended subject is Hasan Nuhanovic -- whom Nick recognises as Beardilocks, who had saved some Muslims from Mladic's men, despite leaving some others to a grisly death.

Jeral asks Nick to accompany him to Baghdad, where Nuhanovic is said to be organising Muslims in an attempt to undermine the West's dominance of the world. Nick refuses but later, when approached by Renee, relents. After all, he has no job and no longer has any human for whom he cares.

Although the novel is tightly plotted and very well-written -- I found myself unable to put the book down in order to go to sleep -- the greatest attraction is in the author's knowledge of the horrors of war portrayed therein. Other writers devote time to researching their subject and many of them succeed in producing gripping tales. Somehow, however, McNab's work surpasses those researched books by the detail he is able to incorporate, sometimes almost as an afterthought, in these pages.

Perhaps the novel should bear a warning for squeamish readers, since some of the scenes could sicken the unwary. The portrayal of day-to-day life as it continues in Baghdad, despite the ongoing trauma of war, is particularly fascinating. I could not help but feel, though, that the only reason for part of the story being set there was just so McNab could include that depiction. I was not convinced by the reasons given in the tale as the location doesn't appear to me to advance the action.

This was the first book of McNab's I have had the good fortune to read. It won't be the last.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, October 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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