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by Gerald Seymour
Hodder & Stoughton, April 2012
496 pages
6.99 GBP
ISBN: 1444705873

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Len Gibbons of MI6 is given the task of assassinating 'the Engineer', an Iranian scientist responsible for the design of sophisticated explosive force projectiles, otherwise known as EFPs. He can do it in whatever way he chooses but it must be done and it must at all costs be deniable.

The first few chapters move slowly - perhaps a little too slowly - but those familiar with Gerald Seymour's work will suspect that there is a very good reason for that. We are introduced to Len Gibbons of MI6, a man with a less than distinguished past, to his colleague, Abigail Jones, who is to be in charge of the operation in the field, and to Joe 'Foxy' Foulkes and Danny 'Badger' Baxter, experts at covert rural observation. Considerable detail about their backgrounds is provided, in particular for Foxy, with whom Badger carries on a perpetual running argument. This level of detail helps to understand the actions of the main characters as the book progresses.

This understanding is a necessary part of the book because of the moral argument that Seymour pursues. Is it legitimate to kill a man on the grounds that his death will save the lives of many others? At the highest level of MI6 and even at Gibbons's level there is no question that The Engineer needs to die to preserve the lives of British soldiers. Abigail Jones has doubts, although she puts them to one side, but Badger becomes more and more uncertain as he watches the Engineer's wife. She is a very impressive figure because, not only is she dying of cancer, but she is also in charge of a committee concerned with the clearance of mines left over from the Iran-Iraq war. This moral dilemma has the effect of heightening the tension of what might have been simply another thriller.

Tension is certainly present in the latter half of the book as those in charge of the operation wait to hear from Foxy and Badger who have created a hidden observation point from which they can watch and overhear the Engineer. It is essential that they find out the one piece of information the plotters need to ensure the success of the assassination. The details given of the grimness of life in the hide – the smell arising from the lack of toilet facilities, the rats, the flies, the mosquitoes, the ticks, the oppressive heat and the impossibility of the slightest movement by day– all demonstrate a considerable research into the life of the 'croppy'. A graphic picture is also presented of the marshy badlands on the Iran-Iraq border. Such is Seymour's skill, however, that, whilst vivid realism is achieved, it appears to be effortless, with no sign of the research itself.

The question for the reader is whether, when their mission is accomplished, Foxy and Badger can be rescued. Abigail Jones and her Jones Boys are determined that they will be, but first they have to find their way back over the border into Iraq. The conclusion is engrossing because it is as thrilling as it is uncertain. The book begins and ends quietly with a repatriation ceremony at Wooton Bassett. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the operation, it involved heroes on the ground and they deserve the ceremony. A thoughtful ending to an excellent novel.

§ Arnold Taylor is a retired Examinations Board Officer, amateur writer and even more amateur bridge player.

Reviewed by Arnold Taylor, May 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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