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Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

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Slow Horses is the first in series of spy novels by author Mick Herron, all of which feature a team of misfits – MI5 Agents, who the service would love to get rid of but can’t for various reasons, so instead they send them to Slough House to finish out their time in the service doing menial and unimportant work. The leader of this group, who are disliked by MI5 and each other in equal measure, is Jackson Lamb, a lumbering, sometimes rude, but still sharp agent. At the start of the story, young agent Rivert Cartwright is sent to Slough House after a routine operation goes drastically wrong and River gets the blame.

However, the Slow Horses (Slough House/Slow Horses – get it?!) find themselves unexpectedly involved in a major news story when a young Muslim boy is kidnapped by a group of thuggish vigilantes, who threaten to behead him and stream it on the internet. Whatever orders they might get from above, there is no way the Slow Horses are going to sit back and let this atrocity happen, but things are way more complicated than they seem.

Okay, confession time. I don’t like spy novels. They just aren’t my thing and I’m not entirely sure what possessed me to buy this book – but nonetheless I thought I should give it a try…and I’m so glad that I did! Jackson, River and their various colleagues are all brought vividly to life, and if they aren’t always immediately likeable, they are certainly enjoyable to read about, and I couldn’t help rooting for them more or less from the off.

The plot itself is nice and twisty but stays on the right side of over-complicated – there were plenty of surprises along the way, but they never seemed too far fetched as to make the story seem ridiculous. The central theme – would the young kidnapping victim be saved? – trotted along well, and kept me gripped; I particularly liked that there were chapters told from Hassan’s point of view. There was also a lot of dry humour here too.

Overall, a great story with great characters, well told. I have bought the next available books in the series and look forward to reading them.

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Quentin Hawk is a young CIA Agent – loyal, honest and effective.  But he has a problem with authority.  This book is apparently the first in a series about Hawk, and it’s a series that’s worth keeping an eye on.  Luke Towne, a former and highly decorated military man is now the Head of the US Military Department of Laser Research and together with his partner Cynthia Teller, he has created a lens which could be life changing for people with poor eyesight – and which could be used as a valuable defence against terrorism.

When Luke gets involved with the beautiful Kathryn de Kennessy, daughter of Lebanese Surgeon Leon de Kennessy, he falls for her almost instantly.  But Brigadier General Orin Pierce – who reports directly and sole to the US President – believes that Kathryn is mixed up in a terrorist plot to bomb the country.  Luke suddenly finds himself pulled in all directions as he tries to work out the truth for himself, while keeping both parties happy.

Meanwhile, we learn about the terrorist plot itself from the people who are directly involved with executing the plan.  Will the powers that be work out what’s going to happen?  And more importantly, will they be able to stop it in time, before there are countless innocent lives lost?  Quentin Hawk finds himself firmly in the middle of the chaos, never sure who to trust, or what consequences his actions will have.

I enjoyed this book – it’s fast paced with an intricate (but easy to follow) plot, full of double crosses, secret plans, and surprising twists.  There is genuine tension at the end, and I found myself eager to find out what would happen.

Quentin Hawk is a great hero – handsome and trustworthy, but with real attitude. My only complaint would be that despite the book being named after him, he isn’t actually in it all that much, until the end.  The real focus of the story is Luke Towne, a man caught between his devotion to duty and his devotion to his girlfriend.  Luke is a hero from the same mould as Quentin – he’s tough as nails and as honest as they come.  (He does seem to cope with authority better – possibly due to his more mature age).  Other characters are Kathryn; her father Leon de Kennessy – who as we find out early on – is most definitely a terrorist as well as being a respected surgeon; Luke’s work partner Cynthia Teller; and Farad Aziz, a psychotic terrorist, intent on causing destruction and pain on a country he feels only hatred towards. Aziz was also a fascinating character, a man of conflict and untempered fury, who hates his colleague Leon de Kennessy.

I do feel that while the story is interesting, with plenty of background explained for all characters, it would have benefitted from being perhaps 100 pages shorter. Occasionally there were parts which I thought were unnecessary, and it might have been a ‘tauter’ story if it had been a bit quicker.  Overall though, this was a very enjoyable read, and I look forward to the next adventures of Quentin Hawk.

(I would like to thank the author for sending me this book to review.  I would also like to thank him for including me in the acknowledgements section of the second print.  Brian Neary’s website can be found here.)

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Incendiary tells the story of a young woman in London who loses her husband and son in a terrorist attack at a football game.  While she is committing adultery and at the same time watching the game on television, eleven Islamic terrorists in the crowd let off bombs and she sees the explosion which kills “her chaps.”

The book is told in the form of a letter from this young woman to Osama Bin Laden, in which she tries to explain the effect the tragic loss had on her.  Through her letter, the reader also learns how the terrorist attack affects London as a whole. 

I thought this was a very thought provoking and insightful book.  Through the eyes of the narrator, we see how London gives a knee-jerk reaction to the attack, by such measures as stopping Muslims working in certain jobs (a nurse who looks after the narrator is told that she cannot carry on doing her job), and imposing a curfew on everybody living in London, with very harsh penalties for anyone who dares to break it.  Helicopters constantly patrol over London and a culture of fear sets in, which  makes people behave in terrible and frightening ways.

We also see how the life of the narrator is changed irrevocably, as she starts to slowly descend into grief-induced madness, while outwardly trying to cope with the hole in her life that can never be filled.  Her pain is all too believeable, sometimes almost painfully so.

The writing is excellent – with the young woman as narrator, the reader is really able to get into her head and sympathise with her.  The fact that she is never named (and neither are her husband or son), underlines the point that this woman could be any person – terrorism isn’t discriminatory.

My only slight complaint is that there was one thing which happened in the woman’s life which seemed too implausible and unbelieveable.  This is only a very minor gripe however, as these scenes sit amid a story which is chock full of horrifying and all too believeable scenes and images. 

Overall, this is a stunning debut novel, and I am now eager to read Chris Cleave’s second book.  Highly recommended.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Carthew Yorston is a Texan businessman, who takes his two young sons to breakfast in Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the North Tower of the World Trade Centre, on September 11th 2001.  What unfolds is all too familiar to the reader, and we see tragedy and horror unfold through Cathew’s eyes (and occasionally the eyes of one of his sons).

In a dual narrative, Frederic Beigbeder examines the effect that September 11th 2001 has had on him, the world and in particular (understandably) New York.

Each chapter in this book represents one minute.  In Cathew’s narrative, which runs in chronological order, he describes that particular minute, stuck at the top of what was the most dangerous place in the world to be on that day.

Beigbeder’s narrative describes a particular minute at varying times of his life since that date, and takes him from Paris to New York, as he considers what moved him to write the book, and describe different aspects of his life.

It’s hard to say that this book was enjoyable, and perhaps, given the subject matter, it was never going to be an enjoyable story.  As the reader knows all too well what happened on that day, it can be read with a sense of apprehension, knowing that Carthew’s hopes of rescue and assurances to his sons are in vain.  The ending is inevitable (it is revealed very early on that Carthew, Jerry and David do not survive, and as nobody who was this high up in North Tower did survive the attacks, it could not be written any other way.  

Carthew also talks about his life, his marriage and divorce, and his job and girlfriend.  This part of the book made for uncomfortable yet compelling reading. However, I did feel somewhat voyeuristic while reading it – I’m not sure that such a tragic event should be served up as entertainment.

When Beigbeder writes as himself, the book is less interesting.  It started well – Beigbeder talks about the idea behind the tower, and gives plenty of facts about how it was built, dimensions etc.  But his narrative soon seems to turn into an exercise in navel gazing…at times he seems simply to be indulging himself in thoughts about his own life.  I ended up feeling that if he wanted to write an autobiography, he should have just written one, instead of trying to smuggle it into a book about the worst terrorist attack in history.

Overall though, I am not sorry I read this book.

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Gina Davies, aka ‘The Doll’ is a pole dancer from Sydney, who yearns for a better life for herself.  To The Doll, all that matters is the pursuit of money and all the pleasures that it can being (such as designer clothes, accessories etc.).  One night, The Doll has a one night stand with a stranger named Tariq, who has disappeared by morning.  At around the same time, three unexploded bombs are discovered, and Gina discovers that Tariq is a suspected terrorist…and as someone who has been seen with him, she finds herself a suspected terrorist (the ‘unknown terrorist’ of the title).

The Doll goes on the run, while around her the media whips Sydney into a state of panic about the threat of terrorism.  An unsavoury journalist jumps on the bandwagon in an attempt to rescue his own flagging career, and soon the situation becomes a major news story, with Gina as public enemy number one.

This book can be enjoyed as a straightforward thriller, but there is a a subtext, showing how the media manipulate people’s fears, and how such fears give society justification for vilifying people, with nothing concrete to base their feelings on. Scariest of all was the fact that it is easy to see how such a situation could happen in today’s culture of fear.

It’s a fast moving story (despite taking place over only a few days); the first half however was more enjoyable for me than the second half, which seemed to get a bit bogged down by some overwrought prose.  It also felt a little preachy towards the end, but overall this did not detract from the story.

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