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A Damned Serious Business

Gerald Seymour
It came as a pleasant surprise to me to realise that Gerald Seymour, one of my heroes from the 1980s, is still busily churning out enjoyable thrillers. In this case, he has brought together a number of familiar elements from his own and others’ previous works into a new one that is bang up-to-date. All of his usual characters that we know and love are here: the hard-bitten mercenary with an idealist’s heart, the feisty female operative, the old school intelligence professional with the single obsessive eccentricity (in this case, a fixation with the battle of Waterloo which may be a trifle overdone). In terms of plot, spy novel fans will recognise a cross between Le Carré’s “The Looking Glass War“ and Seymour's own “The Contract“ – or in fact any of a dozen plots that revolve around getting across a difficult border, doing the business, and getting back alive despite unforeseen human complications.

In this case, the business to be done is all about cyber warfare and Russia – and that is as much of the plot as I will reveal. It's plain that Gerald Seymour, charming gentleman though he is, is not as entirely at home in the new world of cyber as he might be, and the occasional resulting nonsenses do stand out and make the book a little less plausible and true to (possible) life than many of his previous efforts. But on the other hand, the fieldwork he did while researching the book, travelling to Estonia and soaking up the border atmosphere, really shines through. There are even individuals from the other side who he interviewed during the research process who will recognise themselves in specific characters in the book. So all in all the relatively minor misunderstandings about the technicalities of cyber don't intrude that much against the background of solidly researched and plausible writing. And in any case, the copy I had was a preview, so perhaps some of those problems will have been ironed out by the time this is actually published.

This isn't a short book, and some of the Waterloo digressions can drag a little. But overall, the plot moves along highly satisfactory, and the knowledge that Gerald Seymour does occasionally kill off his heroes keeps the suspense going right to the end. For a shamelessly enjoyable escapist read I'd recommend this. Four out of five.

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