There aren't many good books out there in English about the 1990s Algerian civil war, and unfortunately this isn't one of them.
Roberts may be an 'expert' on Algeria, but throughout most of his book he never really questions the official historical line touted by the military junta in Algiers. The book fails to put forward any convincing explanation for the deaths of over 200,000 people in the civil war. This is especially surprising given the numerous first-hand accounts that have recently appeared concerning atrocities committed by the Algerian security services. Mr. Mohamed Samraoui, a former deputy-director of the secret services, has published a book ("Chronique des annees de sang") in which he accuses the Algerian generals of having planned the government's overthrow in the 1992 coup before instigating a counter-revolutionary war against the country's civilian population.
Other testimonies from police and military defectors have confirmed Mr. Samraoui's accusations. Mr. Habib Souaidia, a former lieutenant in the special forces, published "La Sale Guerre" in which he denounces the corruption of the military establishment and provides documentary evidence of its implication in civilian massacres. Mr. Abdelkader Tigha, a former sergeant in an "anti-terrorist" police unit, published "Contre-Espionage Algerien" which exposes similar behaviour on the part of the police and gendarmerie leadership. Nesroulah Yous, a survivor of the 1997 Benthala massacre, has written an account of his experience accusing the Algerian military of having deliberately orchestrated the massacre.
Unfortunately, most of these books are in French and not (yet) available in English translation. However, Mr. Roberts - who is a francophile - has inexplicably chosen to ignore these sources, and in some cases (as in that of Mr. Souaida) even to dismiss them as completely unfounded without actually providing one single shred of evidence to disprove them. This is not what one would expect from an author who regards himself as a serious academic.
Roberts also omits crucial details in his work. He fails to provide an accurate description of the military junta, and the most powerful and influential generals (Larbi Belkheir, Khaled Nezzar, Mohamed Lamari, Smain, Zeroual, etc.) are not even given a proper biography. Nothing is said of General Nezzar's cynical role in machine-gunning demonstrators during the 1988 riots, and very little about the interrogation and torture of several thousand people arrested after the event. The network of detention camps set up by the military in the southern provinces of the Sahara desert after the promulgation of martial law receives scarcely a mention. More importantly, the crucial "secret" link between the top brass of the Algerian army and the French government is largely ignored by Roberts. This is astonishing when one considers that several of the top Algerian officers in power actually served in the French army for most of the Algerian War of Independence, only defecting to the FLN late in the war. At certain times, the book descends into mere propaganda, as when Roberts claims that the military takeover in 1992 was not a 'coup'.
A further weak point is Robert's treatment of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), the precursors of the modern AQIM. This is especially apparent in the case of the seven French monks that were kidnapped and murdered in the mountain town of Tibherine in 1996. Two years ago the Algerian military formally announced that it had in fact accidentally killed the monks in a botched rescue operation. But Roberts has not updated his book to take this into account; and so the monks are still described as having been murdered by the GIA.
For all the reasons outlined above, I would not recommend this work as a good introduction to the subject matter it attempts to present. What is even more ominous is that the same goes for most of the other English-language books about the Algerian Civil War (including Martinez). At present, if you can not read French then the best I can think of is Jeremy Keenan's "The Dark Sahara".