Monday, 4 April 2016

Ghosts Of The Past by Harry McCallion

Harry McCallion, the author of this book, is an SAS legend. He served in the Parachute Regiment, the SAS in Northern Ireland, then went to South Africa and joined their special forces where he took part in the bloody bush war in Mozambique. He returned to Blighty and the SAS once again, before finally finding a home in the RUC. Before reading this novel, I had heard of Harry McCallion, read about his colourful past. This is a man who confesses to having enjoyed fighting and having no regrets concerning the killing. So it was with not a little interest that I approached Ghosts Of The Past, the first novel of his that I've read. Unfortunately, I was to be disappointed.

The first reason for this was the number of grammatical and typological errors in the book. I received my copy from NetGalley, so it could be that my copy was a still to be edited preview. I doubt that however as the book was already on sale through Amazon when I borrowed it. I don't know if the errors are down to the author, or the publishers, Endeavour Press, but quite frankly the manuscript was riddled with them and I found this got in the way of the flow of the story.

The plot of the story focuses on an RUC detective seconded to the Met. There's a murder in a London park and our hero, alongside his Met colleagues, soon discover that a mysterious Russian countess is involved. Without giving too much away the plot becomes one about different factions of the Russian mafia trying to take control of the European trade in Colombian cocaine and warring factions of the IRA. And this leads to my second problem with the book. My issue wasn't with the ideas raised by the plot, more their execution.

First off, I found the Russian Countess, Natasha Romanov, to be just too much of a stereotype. I found the same problem with the ace IRA hitman, Kane. Why in these kind of books must we always have a beautiful, but deadly, femme fatale? And while I respect the author's experiences in Northern Ireland, were the IRA really all cold-hearted psychopaths? And was any IRA terrorist really as well trained and lethal as Kane is made out to be?

Finally, I found the story to be strangely dated. In this age of international Islamist terror the fear of cocaine flooding our streets seems almost quaint. Don't get me wrong, I realise that drugs are still a major societal problem, and just a glance at the near civil war in Mexico is enough to convince anyone that drug cartels have not gone away. But the tone the story is told in harks back to the scare stories of the 1980's. For example, there's a scene on a Royal Naval vessel where an MI5 character is explaining to the warship's captain why it is so imperative that they intercept a big shipment of cocaine. The Captain says something along the lines of, what's the fuss? The MI5 operative then gives this speech about how drugs corrupt everything that they touch and should this amount of drugs hit the streets of London then our political and judicial system will go the way of Colombia's. It's all very earnest and reminiscent of something out of The French Connection. We now know of course that drug trafficking is a more chronic than acute problem. Yes, the profits can corrupt, but after decades of heroin, cocaine, crack, ecstasy, etc, etc, we're yet to see the doomsday scenario of societal breakdown as predicted here.

While I would certainly read more from this author (he has a non-fiction account of his life, and two other novels penned) that has more to do with his background than my experience of this novel. I just hope that his other works are better than this.

Two out of five stars.

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