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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

Hot Blood

Hot Blood (ISBN 978-0-340-92169-2 Hodder and Stoughton 2007) is a new release from the prolific writer Stephen Leather and the fourth in his Dan (Spider) Shepherd series. Leather also spends much time in Thailand, and has been seen writing chapters of his books while sitting quietly in the corner of Jameson’s Irish Pub. Perhaps this is the reason that Dan Shepherd’s favorite drink is Jameson’s and soda.
Shepherd is an undercover British policeman who works for a shady section of the constabulary known as SOCA, the Serious Organized Crime Agency, and this book revolves around his attempt to release a hostage taken in Iraq. A hostage who had previously saved Shepherd’s life.
This particular captive was being held by a totally bloodthirsty group of Islamic extremists, who had killed their previous captive, graphically described by page 12. By then, you know you are in for a no holds barred and hard hitting thriller.
There are three intermingled plots as Dan Shepherd traces local British terrorists, and at the same time is attempting to rescue his friend who is the hostage in Iraq, while an Iraqi sniper is very systematically killing any white face that he can.
The detail in the book is meticulous, and brought me up to date with various weapons and such terrorist offensives as IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).
The hero, Dan Shepherd, is portrayed as a very human character and the book delves into the principle of ‘do the ends justify the means?’ This is a concept that Dan Shepherd struggles with throughout the entire book. After physically interrogating a suspect, Shepherd “wasn’t proud of what he’d done, but he wasn’t ashamed either. The man he’d assaulted was a terrorist.” But this then led to questioning the morality of what the undercover operatives really do. It is an intellectual expose, not cops and robbers – it is a psychological thriller. Shepherd saying, “There’s no honor in what we’re doing, and I think it’s time to stop.”
Being set in Iraq for the bulk of the book, the war situation is examined, right from the pre-invasion: “What had happened in Iraq was everything to do with money and virtually nothing to do with religion.” However, after occupation and the civilian unrest and carnage, author Leather through his characters opines “on the surface the issue in Iraq is religious, but at the end of the day it’s about power.” This discussion of the political and moral debate over Iraq makes the book very current, and also makes the plot and characters even more believable.
The pace of the book is kept up with the short chapters, but towards the end, as Shepherd gets close to his man, the pace is such that you truly cannot put this book down. An overly used phrase I know, but in this case totally justified. You will not be able to put it down either.
At an RRP of B. 395 this is a veritable bargain thriller, and at 536 pages a damn long read. So much more than a detective yarn, Hot Blood is up to the minute entertainment and thought provoking. Get it!