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Can this really be true?
on 6 October 1999
Set in the 1970's and 80's, this purports to be a factual account of the activities of a London-based group of professional assassins, and of the efforts of another clandestine London-based group - The Feathermen - to thwart them.
The assassins, known collectively as "The Clinic" because of their meticulous attention to detail in the planning and execution of murders, were much sought after by would-be buyers of such services for their reliability, effectiveness and discretion.
One such client commissioned the Clinic to kill a number of men who had formerly served in the UK's famed 22 SAS Regiment. Thus it was that the Clinic and its activities came to the attention of the Feathermen (so named "because our touch is so light"). These men and women, operating covertly, are tasked with protecting former serving members of the SAS and their families. Though highly unconventional in their methods, the Feathermen are claimed to differ from the Clinic in that they consider themselves constrained to operate within the law; also, and in stark contrast with the Clinic, their aim is the preservation of innocent lives. The Feathermen as individuals are motivated differently, but share a common high regard for the Regiment though many have never served with it. The Feathermen were founded, it is speculated in the book, by none other than the founder of the SAS, Colonel David Stirling.
Fiennes is famous and much admired in the UK for his adventures and feats of endurance. He is also an established and successful author with several best-sellers to his name. Most importantly perhaps, he himself formerly served with the Regiment for a brief time. He claims he was approached by The Feathermen and asked to write their account of the cat-and-mouse struggle for lives which had taken place with the Clinic. Though making some startling, even contentious, claims, Fiennes' book is notable for providing many details and facts. Specifics as to locations, times, dates and much else besides are provided. It would be a simple matter, presumably, to confirm that such specific events occurred, if not the reasons claimed to underlie them. Nor does his book hesitate to 'name names'. The members of the Clinic, and their victims, are identified, and photographs of all of the latter also appear. I should add (as this is a review) that all is couched in Fiennes' fluent, compelling and thoroughly accessible prose, and he manages to deliver smoothly and engagingly this stark catalogue of atrocities and their grim details.
One or two of the victims were already known to the general public here in the UK before publication of this book, having appeared in the press and elsewhere. Major Mike Keely, MC, for example, is identified in Tony Geraghty's definitive history of the Regiment - "Who Dares Wins" - and his untimely death discussed at length therein. The circumstances of Keely's death as related by Geraghty (who bases his account on the official version given by the Regiment and as discovered in the inquest), are nearly identical to those given in the Feathermen. However, the latter offers very different reasons for why those circumstances arose, and the assertion is that it was not an accidental death or one resulting from misadventure. Indeed, several events quite widely reported at the time of their occurrence, which, though tragic, were sadly too common to excite much suspicion or curiosity, are given sinister new significance by Fiennes. For those readers who lived here in the UK during the time these events were unfolding (70's & 80's) there will be an inescapable eeriness in places as the true nature of events well remembered is asserted by the author.
Having read the book, I have to say that I was left feeling that such claims could not possibly have failed but to exercise the police or the UK government to mobilise an enquiry. Not having heard tell of one I concluded the claims must have been discounted by those in a position to know. Perhaps one was conducted in secret.
Fact or fiction, The Feathermen is a very interesting tale, which is compelling for having purportedly taken place beneath the very noses of the general public, and indeed to have involved members of it unknowingly here and there.. I shall be very grateful to those who take the time to e-mail me with any titbits they have acquired which relate to events in this book, which, incidentally, I wholeheartedly recommend.