Reviewed by Ian Lipke
This is a story about a group of distinctive individuals, men and women, who place themselves in danger in a nerve-racking convergence on a strip of land of no real importance in Yemen.
We meet the leading character in this story before this adventure begins. He has become legendary as a result of an heroic and successful escape attempt from a situation in the same area where, captured by Arab jihadists, he awaited his execution. Badly wounded in one leg he hobbled the long miles to freedom. He is the warrior that all admire. But then he is sent back into the same hell-hole accompanied this time by a sniper and his second. Unfortunately for all, but great for the development of the story, Rat (the sniper) and Slime, his second, have lost the gloss that made them a great team. Rat’s ego and dislike of Corrie Rankin, the legend who leads the team, makes a successful strike on two high-ranking terrorist leaders, who are expected in this lonely part of Yemen, unlikely. Slime is pulled in two directions.
Once this team of unlikely fellows is in place, they must rely on a fourth man, an undercover operative who is to all intents a jihadist preparing to become a human sacrifice. Close by is a female archaeologist exploring the ruins of the Queen of Sheba’s civilisation. She just happens to be their contact point. Playing a prominent role is a young Arab who guides and assists the European insurgents.
The mission, such as it is, is the brain child of Jericho, an apparently harmless fat fool who inhabits the land across the border. He is neither harmless nor a fool – neither is he fat as it turns out.
The plot is threadbare, unlikely and seems destined to fail. The bickering between the leading characters is imposed on the reader. It does not seep out from within the story as you might expect from a writer like Seymour. He has been writing this sort of yarn since 1975. One asks why the pair are presented in this way. Expecting a clear chain of command I found the arguing tedious and without purpose.
We are told the backgrounds of the main characters through flashbacks. This was interesting enough but when we are then subjected to the interpersonal squabbles of the members of the various arms of government I found the whole business too much. Jericho, the fat fool mentioned above, is immersed in the same petty behaviour but manages to rise above it. When direct and swift action is required, he’s the man.
The strongest part of this yarn is the author’s depiction of the world in which the events take place. Seymour can describe every piece of land in intricate detail, convincing even the most hide bound sceptic of its truth. The scenes roll from his pen as if he were standing right there amongst the action. Their authenticity is unequalled.
The book is presented in colours that favour action thrillers. Written by an Englishman for United Kingdom audiences the colours are muted but crisp and well suited to the story. The temptation to slip into brash hyperbole is avoided…with the exception where a description of the author as “the best thriller writer in the world” jars. This one weakness is redeemed by the crisp, understated message: If successful – no medals. If captured – no hope.
In the final analysis it seems fair to say that this is a thriller that excites and exasperates but continues to drive the reader to find out what happens next. It had me up all night, fighting the good fight alongside the legendary Corrie Rankin and the amazing Jericho himself.
By Gerald Seymour
Hodder & Stoughton