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3.6 out of 5 stars
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In the aftermath of the recent London Transport bombings, THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER has a topical theme.
Caleb is a terrorist wannabe - a graduate of an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. But his bad luck resulted in his capture by American troops and incarceration at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where for many months he successfully maintained the cover of being a simple taxi diver caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Finally, released as a PR gesture and returned to Afghanistan under guard, Caleb escapes before he can be handed over to the Afghani Security Service, and immediately starts the long journey to rejoin his Al Qaeda "family" now holed up in the Rub' al Khali desert of Saudi Arabia, otherwise known as the "Empty Quarter". Because Caleb is not an Arab, but rather an Outsider, he's to be given a special mission.
There is little in the way of "thriller" in THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER, a variance from the usual Gerald Seymour novel that may put off some of his fans. Rather, this novel resembles those penned by John le Carre in that it's relatively heavy on character development (Caleb's) and the sometimes plodding nature of intelligence work, and short on sustained action. Indeed, most of the plot involves Caleb's torturous camel journey across the searing hot Empty Quarter in the company of three other Al Qaeda foot soldiers, a Bedouin guide, and the latter's young son - all dedicated to delivering their precious charge to the organization's remote HQ. The opposition is represented by Marty and Lizzy-Jo, two young CIA operatives searching the Rub' al Khali for evidence of terrorists with cameras mounted on the remotely-controlled Predator drones they fly out of a remote desert base, the CIA's station chief in Riyadh, Juan Gonsalves, Juan's MI6 counterpart, Eddie Wroughton, who finds himself on the short end of the Anglo-American "special relationship", and Jed Dietrich, Caleb's Defense Intelligence Agency interrogator back in Gitmo. Jed was on vacation when the CIA and the FBI decided to cut Caleb loose, and now, after belatedly winkling out a clue as to the taxi driver's true identity, Jed is determined to rectify that mistake regardless of the peril to his career by being the bearer of bad news to his superiors.
I'm awarding THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER four stars because I've long been an admirer of the le Carre's style, which eschews sensationalism. However, in consciously or unconsciously emulating le Carre, Seymour has done something I've not seen in any of his other books, i.e., leave a glaring loose end that would seem to invite a sequel. But, since that's not been the author's style to date, I fear I'm left here with a book that has a somewhat unsatisfying ending. In all other respects, however, THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER is vintage Seymour in that it contains real-world characters engaged in a struggle that results in a Pyrrhic victory, if indeed victory is achieved at all.
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on 21 September 2007
The Unknown Soldier by Gerald Seymour is one of the best attempts by a western writer to get into the minds of the different protagonists in what is misleadingly called 'the war on terror'.
The story is about a search for a suspected terrorist. It turns into a pursuit by an intelligence organisation deploying the latest machines of war to find and destroy a Bedu camel train in the Empty Quarter. It is a clash of individuals and technologies in a primitive environment which reaches a thrilling finale. It rings true in all sorts of ways.
However the book carries a bigger message. It shows how half a dozen people (for which we could also read cultures) look at the same situation, see different things, take actions they think appropriate, make the bigger situation worse and each declare victory. One cannot help drawing broader conclusions about current conflicts. This is another excellent story by Gerald Seymour and another profound insight by him into the complexity of international relations.
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on 23 March 2016
It can't be said that Gerald Seymour must have been getting tired when he wrote this because it must have both taken an awful lot of research and some stamina to write the 400 pages.

But the plot can't really support the length of the book and the characters are a bit wooden -- Seymour is hamstrung in telling the tale by the plot device of keeping the main protagonist "unknown"; the doctor and the female lead are both ciphers for much of the story . So the the long march through the Empty Quarter for Caleb becomes a long march for the reader too and, like the travellers, the reader gets a bit parched.

The drone operators are also caricatures -- you can almost hear third rate actors voicing third rate accents in your head to match the trite conversation between the two.

Not his best -- by a long march
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on 27 November 2009
The Rub al Khali is known as 'the empty quarter', a large desert expanse in Saudi. Most of this novel follows the Unknown Soldier (apprentice terrorist) across the desert as drones search for him overhead. The novel starts well and has good insights into Camp Delta in Guantanamo, as well as good characters, with Dr Bart and Caleb both as Seymour's typical anti-heroes. The last 100 pages are gripping, but the problem is the 'empty quarter' or indeed the empty half of the book, from about pages 200- to 400, which make the novel drag as you march with the characters across the desert. Recommended, for die-hard Seymour or Le Carre fans but stick to McNabb if you want a quick adventure read.
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on 14 August 2005
"The Unknown Soldier" is the latest in the long line of superb Gerald Seymour current affairs thrillers. To be perfectly frank I'll a little surprised to see a couple of reviews claiming that this book was below his normal excellent standards and that they found it to be somewhat slow.
It's true that the action isn't breakneck speed with thrills and spills all over the place, but what Seymour can do like no other writer is create a slow pressure build up of tension and then culminate the action in a finale of incomparable proportions.
As in most other Seymour books there are plenty of other sub-plots that run alongside the main one and this book is no exception with four or five other goings on happening at the same time. Indeed it is with some of these lesser stories that I felt this book was even better than some of Seymour's previous works. I loved the
sub-story of Lovejoy, the Security Service Officer and Deitrich, the interrogator from Camp Delta, who pursue the question of who Caleb really is back home in England.
The characters also were as good as ever, Bart the doctor, who is being used by the Security Services in Saudi Arabia is at first slimy and dislikeable and yet by the end of the book you have more than a measure of sympathy for him. Beth Jenkins, the English teacher who is given special permission from the Saudi Royal family to live near the desert is another character you enjoy getting to know. There are plenty more besides these also.
What makes the whole book especially more poignant is that given the recent events that have tragically happened in London, Seymour shows more than a little of the qualities of a clairvoyant with his near prediction of a British born member of Al Qaeda receiving a luggage packed bomb to wreak terror in a populated area.
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on 26 May 2010
Seymour's thrillers are always about far more than providing thrills. Indeed, if he wasn't labelled 'thriller writer', and if he didn't write books that ordinary people enjoy reading, he'd be in line for all sorts of literary awards. From the accuracy of the settings to the quality of the writing to the intricate plots to the careful balancing of sympathies, he is consistently excellent.

This is his best yet. To arouse sympathy for a committed member of Al-Qaeda who is determined on mass murder and is, moreover, a 'renegade' white Brit might seem both impossible and perverse, but Seymour achieves it without ever suggesting that the 'hero's' path in life is anything but tragically wrong. Equally, he excoriates the crassness of some Americans, and denounces the Guantánamo system, without suggesting that the Islamic terrorist view of life is preferable. Rather he shows how the two evils feed off one another, and how the evil on each side perverts all the goodness in individuals, and yet leaves them as human beings who are often disconcertingly sympathetic.

He also suggests, but without preaching, that Caleb has the makings of a great man - a general, a statesman, an explorer, or all three - but that his potential has been ruined by his upbringing. Illegitimate and unwanted, growing up on a sink estate and decanted into a sink school, he longs to rise above the ordinary, but because all he sees around him is petty crime, his aspirations are naturally channelled towards more-than-petty crime, in fact the greatest of all crimes. Naturally affectionate and hating loneliness, he has no loving family, few friends and only one sympathetic teacher, who can do little for him. No wonder he clings with such determination to the one set of people who test him to the limit and then include and esteem him: his 'family', Al-Qaeda.

This is a disquieting book that makes one question all one's ideas about what makes a terrorist. And the ambiguous ending suggests that the terrorist - the intelligent terrorist, the great man gone wrong - is still among us. We made him, we deserve him, and we have no defence against him.

It's also a palpitatingly exciting read. What more can you ask for?
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on 9 February 2013
Almost vintage Gerald Seymour. Worth sticking with it as the elements of the plot start to slot together. Good read.
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on 16 January 2012
I ordered this book in the cover as shown with a figure in a white outfit with headcovered and what i got was the correct title but not the cover it was an old version of the same title totally dissapointed/
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on 9 September 2005
I just couldn't put this book down!!!
Although this books pace was alot more sedate than some of his other books, this one definately keeps you on the edge of your seat.
And dare i say it, i actually wanted the main character to escape, as i felt that circumstances beyond his control, had shaped him into the man he was to become.
If you want to read a good thriller, you MUST read this one!!.
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