Seymour, Gerald - 'A Deniable Death'
This very tightly written novel opens with a very respectful description of a typical sad funeral procession through Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire. Reference is also made to the hundreds of service personnel returning from armed combat in Afghanistan and also Iraq, who have unfortunately lost limbs as the result of road-side bombs. MI6 have identified an engineer employed in Iran who spends all of his time designing and manufacturing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) which have caused up to 66% of all coalition forces casualties since 2001 to the present day. MI6 detail one of their most senior personnel to take charge of organising a plot to kill the person concerned. Len Gibbons, the MI6 nominee, arranges to contact self-employed contractors as their status can be denied by the SIS should the contractor be captured.
This highly detailed plot is softened by the humanity of the author's understanding, that regardless of the occupation of the subject there is always a banal background to every person. No matter how humble or exalted they may be. A lot of the focus of the book is spent on the two 'Watchers', Badger and Foxy, deep undercover in Iran living for many days in a dugout in very unpleasant weather conditions of extreme heat. Their target is under microphone and binocular night sight surveillance 24 hours a day. As they have come such a long distance overland to their vantage point all their food and water rations are contained in two ruck sacks. They cannot leave any indication that they were ever there, so everything that they eat or drink and all their toilet deposits have to be removed. So we get to hear of one character's marital difficulties and the other's interest in wildlife and general loneliness.
On the advance reading copy I used, there is a statement, "You watch, You wait, The hours slide slowly past. You've been there a whole day, then two, you lie under a merciless sun, in a mosquito-infested marsh. You can't move, leave or relax. You're stuck next to a man you despise. If they find you, you will be left to face torture and death". The picture this paints so vividly, is of a job that must be done by our armed forces that is very hard and you just have to admire their fortitude and bravery in such adverse conditions.
This multi-faceted story keeps switching from the back-story of the watchers, to their support network in Afghanistan, to MI6 in London and also the American and kindred security connections. We also hear about the back story of the MI6 organiser locally and why his own life has not been so successful. The target, ie the Iranian Engineer who builds the IEDs we learn has a very sick wife who is suffering from a brain tumour that will need an operation soon to remove it or she may die. The date and location of the hospital that the wife of the engineer is going to go to is so crucial and is what the watchers hope to identify. The novel is very powerful and kept me gripped until the final page.
This novel is completely different to all the others that I have read by this very experienced author as they all are written with different themes and characters, which is one of the factors that makes him such an exciting writer. He is also from a journalistic background (fifteen years as an international reporter with ITN) and meticulously researches the background to all his books and it is very reassuring, reading facts and background details in his stories and knowing that they must be authentic because he has such a good reputation. Gerald Seymour has been a full-time writer since 1978. A DENIABLE DEATH is his twenty-eighth novel. This was great storytelling and I hope he writes many more and I hope I get the chance to read them. You just have to read this novel as it is absolutely gripping.
Terry Halligan, England