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Customer Review

on 11 October 2003
Several years ago, David Robbins authored a novel, WAR OF THE RATS, the plot of which revolved around the duel between two snipers, a Soviet and a German, amidst the WWII Stalingrad battlefield. HOLDING THE ZERO, by Gerald Seymour, is at least equal, if not better, in portraying the sniper's esoteric art.
It's a couple of years before Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the British government receives word of a sighting of one of Her Majesty's subjects roaming northern Iraq with a bloody big sniper rifle and a band of Kurdish fighters led by a charismatic peasant girl, Meda. The witness even provides a name, Augustus Henderson Peake. Captain Willet of the Ministry of Defense is tasked, along with a representative from the Security Service, to investigate Peake and report on his mind set, motivation and training. How much trouble can Peake cause for Her Majesty's government? From the very beginning, Willet knows that Peake has no military background, is the transport manager in an English haulage firm, and is a civilian, award-winning, target shooter. Willet's initial assessment is that Peake will not survive whatever foolish venture in which he's involved himself.
In the meantime, Peake is Meda's secret weapon as her growing band of Kurds advances out of its mountain fastness and wins a series of increasingly ambitious skirmishes with Saddam Hussein's army. The ultimate goal is to take Kirkuk, headquarters of the Iraqi Fith Army and a city sacred to the Kurdish nationalists. The Iraqi Army sends out its best sniper, Major Karim Aziz, to intercept and kill Meda's sharpshooter.
HOLDING THE ZERO is one of the more complex of Seymour's novels that I've read to date. There's a plethora of interesting characters besides Augustus himself: Meda, Aziz, Meda's military advisor Haquim, Peake's guide and spotter Omar, Aziz's tracker dog Scout, Willet, the minefield-clearer Joe Denton, the Mossad agent Isaac Cohen, and the relief worker Sarah. Ironically, in the Big Picture of a CIA plot to topple Saddam, Aziz and Peake are on the same side, and it's ultimately only mano-a-mano pride which matches each against the other.
As in all of Seymour's thrillers, the Good Guys don't always win, and the Bad Guys don't always lose. At the conclusion, one must tally up the body count to decide whose side owns the victory - and it's often Pyrrhic.
As we peer over the shoulder of Willet as he unearths the nature of the man Peake and composes his report, we also march along with Augustus on the journey that will prove Willet right or wrong. At the end of the day in an isolated Iraqi valley, we must stand amazed.
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