My Friend the Mercenary is a strange and rather compelling book. The two main characters are a journalist with left wing leanings, James Brabazon and his South African body guard, Nick du Toit. The body guard is a mercenary, a white Special Forces soldier from the Apartheid era and in all probability the kind of person the journalist would have considered a killer before majority rule.
As a result this is a story that rises above the level of a "boys own adventure" in Liberia because of the, to say the least, conflicting moral positions Brabazon has to negotiate while reporting. The first part of the book, which is really the story of the growing friendship of these two men, is set during a Liberian civil war of 2003. Here all the carnage of a modern "tow tech" war is laid out before the reader, and some of the scenes are brutal. But interwoven through this horror is the growing friendship of the two central characters.
In many ways this friendship reaches some form of peak when du Toit invites Brabazon to film a coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea. What he is asked to do goes well beyond the bounds of normal journalistic methods. In the end, due to a chance event, he does not film the coup. However, du Toit and many of his "associates" are arrested and imprisoned.
At this point the book changes tone and becomes necessarily far more complex. In intricate web of who said what, to who, where the money is coming from, and how involved in the plots were a number of governments then ensues. The name of Mark Thatcher crops up - which was a surprise to me at least.
The fate of the mercenaries from the failed coup is an important part of the book, so I'm not going to mention it.
This really is a book of two half's. The first is a more or less simple tale of a person coming to terms with the complexities of war and the often confusing moral issues it raises for a reporter. The second part is a tale of Le Carre like complexity. Without this second part, the book could be seen as little more than a war story, which an odd couple as protagonists, but in the end the quality of both the writing and the research set this apart as an excellent book.
On an issue of style, I did find the phonetic rendering of both Liberia and South African accents rather annoying, with the amount of time needed to decipher some of the sentences slowing the pace of the book. This aside, it is as excellent book.