Top critical review
21 people found this helpful
on 23 February 2009
Bob Shepherd is a former British special forces soldier and commercial security advisor whose experiences of the security circuits in Afghanistan and Iraq have left him with a bad taste in his mouth (in a manner of speaking).
The Circuit starts well, with the first third of the book working as an entertaining and revealing insight into a deadly serious business. Shepherd's ghost writer does a good job of coaxing detailed atmospheric and illustrative detail out of him, allowing the reader to visualise the places, people and the sights and sounds. He provides an intriguing view in for those of us on the outside, and I really did enjoy reading through these pages at pace. The middle third of the book continues along a similar vein, but you can't help but feel that Shepherd is using the book as an opportunity to drop names and give himself a good slap on the back for a job well done. Indeed, you'd be forgiven for thinking that without Mr. Shepherd, CNN wouldn't have got a single exclusive or scoop in Gaza or the Lebanon!
Casting this aside, my only real gripe with the middle third of the book was that his editorial team thought it a good idea to allow him to tell the tale of how he stole a prized possession from a democratically elected leader (Yasser Arafat). Stealing a presidential flag from a man who has entrusted you with an interview, having spent weeks holed up in a small building, is not something that I think is either big or clever. It certainly does not do the security advisor profession any favours, and I wonder what Shepherd's editor was thinking?
By the final third of the book, Shepherd's ultimate agenda - to chastise the private security companies that put profit before safety (shock horror!) - ruins any entertainment the reader might otherwise derive from the politically charged text. It's not that Shepherd should not criticise these companies; rather, it is that his ghost writer should not have allowed him to do so at the expense of keeping the reader interested. The problem is not that Shepherd has that "I know it all" attitude that is characteristic of many of the former SF soldier books out there, but that when you mix it with a supremely judgemental attitude (he criticises civilians who watch security contractor videos on the internet, exclaiming such behaviour is disgusting) and a dull topic (he relates, verbatim, the mind numbing content of some of his emails to security company management), it becomes very boring very quickly. As a result, the impact of the point he is trying to make is drastically reduced.
So tedious is the final half of the book that one can only assume that even Shepherd's ghost writer and editor had fallen asleep. There's an annoying repetition of the phrase "I'll call him *insert fake name*" when introducing characters whose anonymity he wishes to protect (a simple acknowledgement in the introduction that some names have been changed would have sufficed), and Shepherd seems intent on peddling the old "I've got a secret, but I'm not going to tell you it" line (which is fine, but don't mention it to begin with!). Additionally, there is a short chapter about the infamous Bravo Two Zero patrol from the 1991 Gulf War whose appearance in the book seems out of place. Ostensibly intended to introduce the concept of "bad management", this errant chapter appears to do little other than reinforce the fact that Shepherd is a demi-God who is always right.
This book almost certainly has an audience - those who are working as security advisors in war zones, and those who have a similarly professional or academic interest in that field of work - but be warned in advance that I found it very easy to put down. In fact, this is the first book in a very long time that I did not bring back home with me from a trip abroad. Hopefully, the cleaning staff at the Vegas hotel I left it in will use it wisely... as a door stop, or bookend.