I'm a huge fan of 'Making a Killing' - Major James Ashcroft's first book - and I'm glad to say that his follow up is just as good as the first instalment of his time spent as a private security contractor in Iraq.
If you enjoyed the first book, there is no way you can pass this book up. In it, the old Spartan crew he lead first time around, are brought back together for one final mission - to rescue Sammy, the loyal Iraqi translator whom I'm sure fans of his first book will remember. If you've read 'Shantaram' Shantaram but not 'Making a Killing' Making A Killing: The Explosive Story of a Hired Gun in Iraq , just think of Prabaker... but Sammy isn't fiction. This story is real and so are the people in it.
And that's why Mad Dog, Cobus, Les, Dai and the rest of the Spartan security firm return to risk life and limb for zero pay just to ferry their old friends and his family out of Baghdad to safety. However, what at first seems to a simple mission soon unravels, and the situation quickly spirals out of control, as if often the case in Iraq.
'Making a Killing' ended with Ashcroft shot, bleeding, and being chased out of Iraq (aided, if you remember, by Sammy). Unfortunately, as we know only too well, in the absence of any descent withdrawal strategy a power vacuum was formed and the situation on the ground quickly deteriorated into a power struggle between the Shia and Sunni.
In this struggle, and because he helped the allies, Sammy found himself with a price on his head - placed there by another character we recognise from the first book - general Ibrahim. Ashcroft never trusted him first time around and it seems his instincts were spot on.
But Ibrahim's ruthlessness provides Jame's, his crew, and Sammy's other loyal friends in the US military with a chance to return the favour to a man who had risked everything to help build a better future for Iraq, when sadly, and disgustingly, our own government and that of the US are happy to hang them out to dry and run the daily gauntlet of the death squads.
As with the first book, it's pages are filled with tension and political insight into the situation in Iraq - reading this you'll get a first hand account of what it's like to be a hired gun, a serving soldier or a civilian living in this war torn country. You'll also experience some of the nerves and uncertainty troops feel when they venture outside the Green Zone.
It gives insight into the problems faced with trying to rebuild a country where centuries of tribal conflict have left the population at each others throats; situation made worse by the total incompetence of the West's withdrawal... if indeed it was incompetence at all. But that's an argument for another day.
Anyone with a passing interest in the situation on the ground in Iraq, the wider region as a whole, or the political motives of the West and the allied forces would do well to read both of these books for one man''s frank and honest insight into what is really happening in the region, the difficulty soldiers face, and catch 22 situation that we the West now find ourselves in.
These two books are the best 1st hand accounts of military personnel I have read - both books are thoroughly riveting and leave you with a knot in your gut as you wonder what's going to happen on the next page. In Iraq you get a sense that anything might happen, and that is true of these books too. Read them both without hesitation.
If you have an interest in Private Security Contractors, PSDs or the many Private Armies such as Black Water (now Xe Services) you might enjoy this excellent documentary which also features excerpts from James' first book: Shadow Company [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]