Top positive review
10 people found this helpful
on 21 November 2002
Dorrie Mowat was an English teenager of exceptional incorrigibility, who caused her mother and stepfather innumerable instances of hurt, anger, and social embarrassment before she left home to travel the Third World. Even her mother, Mary, detested her as "Horrid Dorrie". At the beginning of THE HEART OF DANGER, an international graves registration team in disintegrated Yugoslavia unearths a mass grave of Croation villagers, inhabitants of Rosenovici, apparently murdered by their Serbian neighbors from the village of Salika. Dorrie is among the bodies, her face bludgeoned, throat cut, and head bullet pierced. After Mary brings her daughter home in a coffin - outraged at the official indifference of Her Majesty's government, grief-stricken and guilt-ridden - she hires Bill Penn to go to the Balkans, find out why Dorrie was murdered, discover who was responsible, and write a report. Once in Zagreb, Penn discovers that there may be one surviving eyewitness to the crime, an old woman living in the ruins of Rosenovici now behind the cease fire line in Serbian controlled territory. Penn crosses into THE HEART OF DANGER to find the answers.
Gerald Seymour is the best writer of believable covert action fiction that I've found on today's bookshelves. Even better than the master, John Le Carré, because Seymour's plots move at a somewhat faster pace without sacrificing character development. And this author's heroes aren't indestructible and flawlessly noble like so many protagonists of the genre (especially, it seems, if they're Americans). For example, Penn is a plodding, regular bloke still smarting from being sacked by MI5 after years of faithful service in the trenches because he lacks the higher education necessary for further advancement. So, now he does grotty surveillance jobs for a second rate detective agency, and returns home at night to a sinking marriage. His is a mid-life crisis well underway. As he gradually pieces together Dorrie's last hours, he discovers another side of the girl that compels him to seek justice in her memory. For the first time in a long time, Penn has the opportunity to regain his dignity and a sense of self-worth. Powerful incentive, that.
The villain of the piece on the other side of the line is Milan Stankovic, a loving father and husband, once a simple clerk, now popularly acclaimed to be chief of the local militia in Salika. This newly acquired power, plus the memory of Croatian atrocities against his grandparents, burned alive in a church with many other Serbs during WWII, combine into a continuum of tribal violence and hatred. The banality of this evil is unremarkable for the Balkans, but relatively unknown in America the Melting Pot.
In all of Seymour's books that I've read, any victory of good over evil that may occur is of a Pyrrhic sort. It's hard to tell, at the conclusion, which side has sustained the greater loss. It's the novelty of this approach for this genre of fiction, and its commentary on the tolls exacted in real life, that make his works so attractive for me, and I intend to read many more.