Author Gerald Seymour defines CONDITION BLACK as "a lethal assault in progress". This novel superficially resembles another of Seymour's books, LINE IN THE SAND. In the latter, the Iranians send their master assassin onto English soil to do a wet job. On his trail are representatives from a ragtag bunch of British security and law enforcement agencies, plus an expert Scottish tracker and his dogs. In CONDITION BLACK, the villain is a young English mercenary in Iraq's employ, Colt. He's already killed an Iraqi dissident and his CIA contact in Athens. Now, he's going back to his island home to do another hit — and visit his dying Mum. There's the usual posse of pursuers and kibitzers: MI6, MI5, Scotland Yard, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Mossad. Chief among them is FBI agent Bill Erlich, out to avenge the murder of his good friend, the CIA agent in Athens. Erlich is young and ambitious. He sees a successful outcome to the chase as a step up the rung of the advancement ladder. To his principle British minder, James Rutherford of MI5, Erlich is "Buffalo Bill", a cowboy with a quick draw mentality. What could be a simple storyline is made more complex by another task assigned Colt by his Iraqi handlers once he's on home soil. By the way, Colt, how about stopping by Her Majesty's Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston and recruit one of it's scientists to turn traitor and work for the Iraqi nuclear weapons program? Why sure, chief, no problem. Gerald Seymour is my very favorite creator of spy/conspiracy potboilers. However, I can't quite award five stars for CONDITION BLACK. It seemed the author was overreaching when he assigned two very different roles to Colt. Though not impossible — and what do I know? — it would seem more plausible that assassination and agent recruitment are two very disparate talents not likely resident in a single operative, much less one as unsophisticated as Colt. And the ending was vaguely unsatisfying, though it was consistent with Seymour's first class strength, which is crafting his plots consistent with grubby, unheroic real life, in which the winners and losers are rarely clear cut.
Gerald Seymour knows how to hold a reader's attention. I do find the characters in the early chapters difficult to keep up with as he introduces so many of them but it is well worth perservering. This is the story of an FBI agent, Bill Erlich, who is following the trail of a paid killer. The killer is in the employ of the Iraq government and his targets are Iraquis who have upset the regime but a CIA agent gets in the way of a bullet and he is Erlich's friend. The bureaucracit blunders that occur in this book would be laughable if they weren't so realistic and tragic. The British, the Americans and the Iraqi governments make so many one wonders how their Security Services survive.
Condition black is the zoned-out state of mind one has when you are holding an armed weapon with the option of shoot and kill, or be killed. The novel follows Elrich, a CIA agent revenging the death of his friend. His foe named Colt, is a British rebel working as a mercenary hit-man for Iraq. These 2 characters spar well for most of the book, inter-linked by a plot where Iraq attempts to defect a disillusioned British Nuclear scientist/ civil servant. This is a solid and standard fare from Seymour, not his best, but recommended.
I recently bought three Gerald Seymour books in a charity shop and I've been working my way through them. It's been hard work. For me, the test of a book - good or bad - is how I feel when I pick it up to read it, and with this book in particular it was always my last choice because I found it so depressing and entirely unappealing. I'm not saying that the writing is bad or that the story doesn't have its points of interest, but it's all so down-beat and bleak that I really found reading it a chore. It's probably just me, but I prefer a book which makes you feel good after you've finished it, and one that makes you want to put it to one side to read and enjoy again later. I've never felt like that with any of this author's work, and I couldn't even be bothered to finish this book. Sorry.