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Friday, 21 March 2014

FFB - The Unknown Soldier

This was published in 2005 and was Gerald Seymour’s twenty-second thriller and it’s up there with his best, though my favourite is still Archangel, a moving story about a man’s doomed yet glorious fight against the authorities in a Russian Gulag. 

As ever, Seymour was up-to-date with the world’s headlines at the time of writing.  The story begins in Afghanistan while various followers of Al Qaeda are being ‘mopped-up’. 

There’s an interesting mix of characters whose lives are going to converge - and every one of them is believable, as are the subordinate characters, whether Arab, Israeli or American; a sure sign of thriller-writing of the highest order.

Caleb seems to have denied any past beyond two years ago.  He survives an American ambush and is shipped off to Guantanamo Bay for processing; yet he doesn’t seem to be a terrorist and after many months of interrogation he’s returned to Afghanistan ...

Marty and Lizzy-Jo are two young Agency whizz-kids who fly the unmanned spy-planes, the Predators; they’re being shipped out to Saudi Arabia.

Here already is Beth Jenkins, a school-teacher and amateur meteorologist and Bart, a doctor with a distinctly shady past, who happens to be one of several spies garnering any titbits for Eddie Wroughton, the Saudi MI6 man.

Back in London is Lovejoy, an old spy, who sits through briefings to understand the psychology of today’s terrorists: the men Al Qaeda want to recruit for their dirty work are not loners, they want men who are tough, persistent, determined and bright.

Jed Dietrich is an interrogator in Guantanamo; while he was on vacation, Agency know-alls let Caleb go.  On his return, he managed to unmask Caleb as a liar - too late, the man had beaten them all... 

The manhunt was on for someone wily enough to bide his time and beat the interrogators.  Someone Al Qaeda would like to use, probably as a mule to deliver a lethal package to any city in the West...

‘The explosion would cause thirty injured and three deaths, but unseen in the air heated by the detonation and moved on the wind - particles of caesium chloride...’  The fear of a dirty bomb.  Panic would ensue.  And the creation of panic is the terrorist’s principal aim.

Inner cities would be abandoned.  ‘The panic caused would initiate a new Dark Age.’

The manhunt leads to the Empty Quarter - sand dunes and shallow mountains that cover a quarter of a million square miles of emptiness.  And through the fire of the sun’s unrelenting heat is a caravan with Caleb getting nearer to Al Qaeda and an appointment with immortal fame.

Unless he can be stopped.  Thoroughly researched, Caleb’s journey becomes your journey and you can’t help rooting for this brave young man who seems determined to blot out pain and other emotions just to reach his goal. 

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