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
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!