Dead Men by Stephen Leather: Shepherd Number 5

Stephen Leather‘s Daniel ‘Spider’ Shepherd is an ex-Special Air Services (aka Special Forces, aka SAS) who now works for the newly formed SOCA (the Serious Organised Crime Agency) as an undercover operative. Dead Men is the fifth in the series and like all the other books about Spider, it’s a cracking good read.

As I’ve said before, Stephen Leather writes about the IRA quite often in his books, whether they are Spider Shepherd books or not, showing just how much the IRA are part of British history and life. Despite the peace talks and the fact that the IRA was “absorbed” by Sinn Fein, they are still a painful memory for a lot of Briton’s and only recently have been replaced as the national “boogey men” by Al-Qaeda.

Shepherd lives with his son Liam and their “live-in” housekeeper/nanny/cook Katra. His boss is the hard-as-nails Charlotte Button aka Charlie. She has transferred from MI5 to the new crime unit. He will in this book try to solve a series of IRA revenge killings while trying to keep Liam, Katra and Charlie safe from revenge killings from a different source.

Dead Men takes a closer look at the aftermath of the peace talks and the hard feelings felt by those who felt that justice had not been served regarding the terrorist action of the IRA. When the men and women who participated in Irelands “war” against England receive a “get out of jail free” card that absolves them of all crimes committed, a lot of people are unhappy.

The book opens with the barbaric execution of a local police constable Robbie Carter during “the troubles”. He is “kneecapped” (shot behind the knees) and then summarily shot in the back of the head. All this takes place in front of his wife and son.

Years later, someone is taking out the gang of “executioners” in the exact same manner that Carter was killed. SOCA has the job of finding out who is actually committing the murders. The finger of the law is pointing to Carter’s widow Elaine who, in the years after her husband’s murder, has also lost her son to Leukaemia.

Spider has been tasked to “get close” to her and prove her innocence or guilt. Meanwhile Charlie Button’s MI5 past is catching up with her in the form of an angry father. She and an American operative from “Spooksville” (CIA and black ops Homeland Security)  USA Richard Yokely (a very interesting character who is perhaps a bit more dangerous than Spider) interrogated two men who wound up dying as a direct and not so direct result of their questioning.

Poppa hires a top-of-the-league “hitman” to take them both out, painfully and aware of why they have been targeted. As the gang of IRA murderers gets smaller and smaller, only one is left. He is married “to a Kennedy” and has high political aspirations. But will he live long enough to see them happen?

As with all the Spider Shepherd books, Stephen Leather paints a sharp clear picture of his characters. They are alive and breathing; Leather’s ear for dialogue with all its nuances is, as usual, spot on. Shepherd is  interesting to read about and like the other books in the series you lose nothing by not reading them in order. Spider knows right from wrong and he  also realises that the world is full of a lot of grey areas. He deftly and with no qualms steps from the black and white world into this grey area in his undercover world.

Despite this book being somewhat “early on” in the Spider Shepherd books, the writing is just as crisp as in his later books. Published initially in 2008, Dead Men gives a bit more of an insight on Shepherd and on Charlie, while letting us into Richard Yokely’s world a bit more.

I would give Dead Men a 5 out of 5 stars for not only being a great paced action thriller but also a mystery of very enjoyable difficulty.

Argo (2012): A Truth Stranger Than Fiction

Every once in awhile you hear about something that makes you breakout in gooseflesh at the audaciousness of the idea or story.

Argo is that gooseflesh inducing item in question. Directed by and starring Ben Affleck, the film is about a time period in the world that changed my path forever.

In November 1979 Iranians stormed the US Embassy in Tehran. A group of Embassy staff were taken hostage. The world, in particular the United States, was in an uproar. American people were outraged that someone would so blatantly ‘kick sand in America’s face’ and I was one of those people.

By March of the next year when the hostages were still being held, in a fit of patriotic fever, I joined the United States Air Force to add my name to the roll of folks who wanted to go over and kick some ass. I was in Basic Training at Lackland AFB in Texas when the overt rescue operation was attempted. That operation ended in death and defeat with the bodies of the rescuers being paraded down Iranian streets.

We had been called out of our regular training duties and told that the US had declared war on Iran and that we would be re-deployed to our new units. It was sad, shocking and not true. What that did, besides impress us that our job was war and to not forget it, was it impressed us with the consequences of any rescue operation overt or covert.

Argo is about the other rescue mounted to help Americans trapped in Iran. The covert one that was a joint Canadian and CIA operation.

I remember that six members of staff made it out of the Embassy. I also remember the same six folks disembarking from an aircraft while a television reporter told of their escape from the Embassy and how they hid in houses till they were rescued.

I also seem to remember that they were either touted a being Canadian or having Canadian passports. What I did not know was how they were rescued. Until now.

The film is about operation Canadian Caper and the mastermind behind it who also entered Tehran as a location scout for a film. Using this cover and providing the six captives with specially approved Canadian passports CIA Operative Tony Mendez personally got the hostages out.

Argo is the story about this little known rescue and all the people behind it and the people who were forced to hide until they were rescued.

Watching the trailer for this film got me so excited I had to see this film. Period. Imean, seriously? Truth is so much stranger than fiction. Who would believe the proposed plot for a proposed film that centred around a government secret agency who “make a movie” in a revolution torn country and rescue hostages? Really??

The cast list is impressive:

Argo is set to premier November this year and I can’t wait. It looks like Ben Affleck has found his niche as a quality director.

Have a look at this trailer and then tell me you can’t wait to see this film! I’ve tagged this upcoming film as a Blockbuster and I’ll be surprised if it’s not.

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