The Break Line

The Break Line

James Brabazon
ARRSE Rating
3.5 Mushroom Heads
This is a very dark novel, the first by the author. The main character, Max McLean is a killer for the British government who has been doing this job for two decades and is starting to become jaded and making errors. He is Southern Irish but decided to join the British Army, soon being selected for a special sniper school where he is picked. One of his main attributes is that he has no real background history, both parents dead, no family ties. With his attitude to sniping he was thought to be the ideal “legally sane psychopath” and was recruited into a group going by the tag of the Unknowns (UKN). McLean is a very complex character and much of the book takes place in his head, but don’t let that put you off as this is a compelling story. This ploy allows the author to bring in elements from seemingly nowhere but which are explained as the story unravels.

Following a failed assassination in South America where Max identifies the target as the wrong person so does not shoot her he is brought back and briefed, very lightly, on a job in Sierra Leone where he is to take out the leader of a group building a rebel army in that country. This person is a Russian Spetznaz Colonel. Max is poorly briefed, has none of the usual backup, does not know if allies such as the USA are on side or not and has no backup in country other than a name “Juliet” who he is expected to find.

It turns out that she is a barmaid who met one of Max’s colleagues. Prior to going to Sierra Leone, Max is sent to a top secret establishment in England where a friend of his, known as Sonny Boy, is held. This person is former Parachute Regiment and SAS and is the bravest man that Max has ever known yet has been reduced to a psychotic mess by something absolutely terrifying, but which he can’t or won’t describe. He just says to Max “They are coming”. Sonny Boy then attacks Max with demonic strength and Max is forced to kill his friend.

I am getting a bit far into the plot here so I will try to pull back a bit so I don’t spoil the book, should you decide to get it.

There are three other main characters, one a former Hungarian who fled to the UK and is not a Major General in charge of a British military intelligence department, another is the senior man in that department and the third is a civilian who is a senior British officer in the secret world of spooks and spies. Each of these men have a hand in this operation but none of them help Max in carrying this out. He is sent out very much on his own. Max is not too worried about this as he is used to being on his own as an assassination sniper, but is surprised at the lack of back up and support.

Arriving in Sierra Leone Max is met by a driver who is assigned to be his wheels. It turns out that this man’s wife is the aforementioned Juliet, and it is here that reality seem to flee the plot. Again, don’t let this put you off as all becomes clear, if implausible, as the story goes on. Almost as soon as he arrives in SL, Max is under attack with people trying to kill him, but he is not sure who. After finding a friend who can bankroll him and equip him he sets off up country to carry out the task he had actually been sent to do. He quickly finds out that his mission is known to his target along with his personal details and methods. Someone has betrayed him.

We are now about three quarters through the book before he gets down to the task and yet again the author goes off into almost a fantasy world. Again I won’t go into the plot deeply but he takes his shot at the man he has been sent to assassinate – but it is not who he thought this would be and is profoundly shocked – but still carries out the task, or does he? Max then takes on a whole complex of soldiers, both Russian regulars and local Africans and kills most of them escaping the jungle on a helicopter sent from his friend in SL who equipped him.

Mission complete, he returns to England to track down the man who betrayed him and why. Having exposed the traitor Max is offered a form of retirement in taking over command of the sniper school that recruited him so long ago. I guess that we will have to wait for book two to see if he take it up, but the final sentence of the book seems to say no.

Now to the brickbats. The author is a very experienced war correspondent and he has obviously picked up a lot from the soldiers he has talked to and watched over the years and brings a lot of that to the story, but there are loads of irritating bits in the book in which one is saying “that would never happen”. For instance, Max makes the point that he has to carry minimal amount of ammunition yet he shoots someone in the forehead, from close range with a 9mm, then puts two more rounds into the body. No thought for conservation of rounds, he does this more than once. He also has an understanding that there is no such thing as coincidence, yet the whole story is based on a series of coincidences!

That said, the book is well written, as it should be by an experienced journalist, it is easy to read and genuinely does tempt one on to see where the story will go. As I started off saying, it is a very dark novel with plenty of blood, brains and other bodily parts flying around. Park belief for a while and you have a very readable book. I am still a bit unsure where the title fits in to the story though!

3.5 Mr MRHs

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