Book Review: A Dying Breed, by Peter Hanington


cv_a_dying_breedAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

A Dying Breed is the first book by Peter Hanington; I hope it won’t be his last. His work on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme during the time of the Iraqi and Afghanistan conflicts has given the book a sense of realism. When his characters move through the landscape of Kabul you are there with them, watching your back and being ever alert for danger.

William Carver is an old-school BBC journalist who likes to keep what he knows to himself, much to the irritation of his employer. He’s filing few stories, and no one knows exactly what he’s up to.

When a local official is killed in a bombing at a tailor’s shop in Kabul, it doesn’t excite Carver much. Until he learns the official was opposed to a UK company being awarded a telecoms licence. Warned to leave the story alone, Carver does the opposite, roping in his translator, Karim Mumtaz, to help him dig deeper. He discovers that the bomb was the kind favoured by foreign forces and the official died from a gunshot to the head, not the bomb blast.

Back in the UK Carver’s immediate boss, Rob Mariscal, is told to rein him in and kill the story until the contract is awarded. Carver hates working with a producer and has already been responsible for one resignation, but Mariscal sends young producer Patrick Reid to Kabul, in the hope that he will find out exactly what Carver knows. So he can get on with his research, Carver sends Reid and Mumtaz on a job that had been set up just for him. When they get kidnapped and Mariscal arrives in Kabul, Carver mistakenly confides in him, which could put his colleagues’ lives in danger.

A Dying Breed has a number of characters who play an integral part in the story – British Ambassador David Lever, private military contractor Richard Roydon, and a warlord known as the General. Everyone has something to hide and lives will be lost trying to suppress the truth. Will Carver be able to publish his story in time or will his efforts be in vain?

This book is fast-paced and extremely well-written. As a journalist myself, the characters in A Dying Breed are believable and the trials and pitfalls of chasing a major story only too familiar.

A note claiming the book was set in a shadowy le Carré-esque world worried me a little as I had never read any of le Carré’s books. Having finished A Dying Breed, I’m keen to remedy that. It just shows the difference having extensive knowledge of your subject matter makes to a novel – this book is hard to put down and leaves no questions unasked. Just like a good news story really.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

A Dying Breed
by Peter Hanington
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN 9781473625426

Book Review: Close Call, by Stella Rimington

Available now in bookstores nationwide.

Tcv_close_callhis is the eighth book in a series by former head of the British Secret Service, Stella Rimington, featuring Liz Carlyle, Section Head of the Counter Terrorism Unit at MI5. Liz and her team have been given a watching brief on arms supplies to rebels involved in the Arab Spring uprising, after fears that the rebel groups have been infiltrated by al-Qaeda-type jihadis. It transpires that the source of the arms deals is in Europe, leading Liz on a frantic mission to Paris, Berlin – and Manchester.

The operation puts Liz in contact with a face from her past, Jimmy McManus, once a policeman of questionable moral tactics, now deputy head of Special Branch in Manchester. Much more pleasantly, she is also required to work closely with her current romantic partner, Martin Seurat, of the French intelligence agency, as the two countries, together with the Americans, attempt to halt the movement of illegal arms from Yemen to England.

There are four different types of men in Liz Carlyle’s life: ex-lovers, current lovers, men who wish they were her lovers, and Bad Guys. (Just to be clear, our Liz does not consort with Bad Guys. Or at least, not yet. Maybe that’s a plot twist for a future book.) It is difficult not to wonder whether Ms Rimington herself indulged in as many romantic trysts in her professional life as Liz enjoys. I confess I had only read one other of the Liz Carlyle books in the series of now eight, but it did not matter. There is enough filling of backstories for the uninitiated to get the gist of what has previously happened to recurring characters.

Knowing that the author was, for several years, head of MI5 gives the book an added intrigue. Although she is no doubt bound by all manner of Official Secrets laws, Rimington manages to give the story enough of an air of realism that the reader feels let in on at least a little of what must go on behind closed, and carefully locked, doors.

“’Well, I’ve got things you folks need to know,’ said Bokus [Andy Bokus, of the CIA]. ‘We’ll go down to the Bubble.’ The Bubble was the secure room in the bowels of the basement, purpose-built to foil any attempt at eavesdropping. It always struck Liz as strange and illogical that, as the main threat of eavesdropping in London must come from the British intelligence services, the Agency conducted its most sensitive conversations with the British in their most secure room.”

With so much in even our own national news lately about intelligence-gathering by government agencies, the Liz Carlyle novels feel quite topical. Rimington’s autobiography has been on my ‘To Read’ list for some time. Reading Close Call made me even more eager to bump the memoir further up my rankings.

Close Call starts slowly, as does Liz’s watching brief of the situation. The last third of the book finally picks up the pace as the arms deal gets closer to British shores. Fans of espionage-type thrillers will find this an easy but enjoyable read.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

Close Call
by Stella Rimington
Published by Bloomsbury
ISBN 9781408841051