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Spider runs with wolves
on 12 February 2008
"I've been asked to give you a call to reassure you that we are aware of the approach that has recently been made to you by your American counterparts ...The fight against terrorism is one that we have to absolutely have to win. There's no question about that. And sometimes measures have to be taken that fall outside the remit of our law enforcement agencies ... We're very grateful for the work you've done for us in the past, your exemplary army career and the excellent job you've done as a police officer and with SOCA. There's no pressure on you to accept the offer that has been made. All I'm doing is calling to let you know that if you do accept, you do so with our blessing and that you will be accorded whatever protection we're able to offer. Subject to total deniability, of course." - A late night call from the Prime Minister in DEAD MEN
This is the best Dan Shepherd thriller to date. Nicknamed "Spider" because he once ate a tarantula on a SAS survival exercise, Dan is in danger of perhaps losing his relative innocence in the next book of the series. The stage is set in DEAD MEN.
This installment of Shepherd's career against assorted Bad Guys is at once better than some previous ones because the action alternates back and forth between two equally absorbing and heavy-hitting storylines, both of which achieve well developed and satisfying conclusions. Subplots in previous books, e.g. HOT BLOOD, have been known to sputter out in deference to the main plot.
Here, Shepherd, an ex-SAS trooper now working undercover for the United Kingdom's Serious Organized Crime Unit (SOCA), is assigned by his boss, Charlotte Button, to find the person responsible for murdering several ex-Irish Republican Army members, all involved in the execution of a Royal Ulster Constabulary officer, Robert Carter, several years previous. The Irish are now protected by the British government in deference to a cease fire agreement with the IRA. The chief suspect in the latest killings, which have so far eliminated four of Carter's five executioners, is Carter's wife, Elaine. Dan must get close enough to her to obtain either damning or exculpating evidence regarding her involvement.
In the meantime, Saudi sheikh Othman bin Mahmuud al-Ahmed hires the accomplished Muslim killer-for-hire Hassan Salih to assassinate the two individuals involved in the interrogation of Othman's terrorist son, Abdal Jabbaar, a couple of years previous, the methods of which interrogation included the torture death of Jabbaar's younger brother, Rahmaan, and assault on Jabbaar's sister, Kamilah. Jabbaar was subsequently imprisoned at Guantanamo and ultimately committed suicide. CIA officer Richard Yokely, reluctantly assisted by Charlotte Button, conducted the original interrogation (the details of which can be found in the Dan Shepherd thriller COLD KILL). Salih's brief is to torture to death both Yokely and Button.
Because of Button's involvement in both of DEAD MEN's concurrent plots, so too is Spider.
Yokely is perhaps the most intriguing character. Like his hunter Salih, Richard is coldly effective, Machiavellian, and willing to do whatever it takes, however unethical by normal standards, to do his job, which is protect the USA and its allies. Richard also has friends in very high places, which adds a sinister element to his power. But, of course, Yokely is on America's and Britain's side in its battle against Islamic jihadism, so he perhaps has the Western reader's good will. Nevertheless, both Yokely and Salih are predatory, vicious wolves.
DEAD MEN is, obviously, a work of fiction written for its entertainment value. But author Stephen Leather is also presenting a moral dilemma. Just how unscrupulous and hardball do the guardians of Western society play it against those that would bring that society down? Perhaps the author himself has yet to answer that to his own satisfaction. In any case, the conundrum is presented by contrasting Shepherd, who's careful to limit his (sometimes lethal) violence to what's more or less legally sanctioned, and Yokely, who most certainly does not. Also, there are the answers Dan himself provides to the moral choice questions presented to him by Caroline Stockman, SOCA's resident shrink charged with evaluating the operational fitness of that agency's operatives.
DEAD MEN stands alone both as an edge-of-your seat nail-biter and as a possible preview of Shepherd's way through Yokely's shadow world. How will the call to duty play out?