A Deniable Deathby Gerald Seymour
A page-turning thriller of life and death in the moral maze of the post-9/11 world from the international bestselling author and "best spy novelist ever" (Philadelphia Inquirer)
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The rules are simple. Break up your shape. Hide your smell. Never show your silhouette. Check the surfaces of your kit. Space the movements of your team. Use the
A page-turning thriller of life and death in the moral maze of the post-9/11 world from the international bestselling author and "best spy novelist ever" (Philadelphia Inquirer)
The rules are simple. Break up your shape. Hide your smell. Never show your silhouette. Check the surfaces of your kit. Space the movements of your team. Use the shadows. Danny "Badger" Baxter has a talent for surveillance. He's always followed the rules. Until now, they've kept him alive.
But now Badger has a bigger job than photographing dissident Northern Irish Republicans in muddy Ulster fields, or Islamic extremists on rainswept Yorkshire moors. MI6 have a plan to assassinate the Engineer--a brilliant maker of Improvised Explosive Devices, the roadside bombs which account for 80% of Allied casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. The spooks know he's planning to leave his home in Iran. They just need to find out when and where he's traveling.
So Badger finds himself on the wrong side of the Iranian border, burdened with a partner he loathes, lying under a merciless sun in a mosquito-infested marsh, observing the house. If things go wrong, as far as Her Majesty's Government is concerned, his part in the plot is completely deniable. With A Deniable Death, Gerald Seymour expertly explores the moral compromises of the secret world upon which we rely for our everyday security - and the amazing reserves of courage which ordinary people can find in extraordinary circumstances.
A Washington Post Notable Fiction Book of 2013
The three British masters of suspense, Graham Greene, Eric Ambler, and John le Carre, have been joined by a fourth--Gerald Seymour.
Seymour is a master of the thriller set on the murky edges of modern war . . . As ever he juggles action, context and suspense with a special-forces level of expertise.
Veteran British spy novelist Gerald Seymour has written an extraordinary work of fiction. This is Seymour's 21st novel, and critics on both sides of the Atlantic have for years compared him to John le Carre, Graham Greene, Eric Ambler and other masters of spy fiction, but his reputation has never quite equaled theirs. No matter. Serious readers will find in A Deniable Death not only suspense, strong characters and a realistic look at the world of espionage, but a majesty that is rare in fiction. At a certain point, the novel rises to a mythic level, portraying courage and loyalty and sacrifice almost beyond understanding.
Convincing and suspenseful.
Seymour is a veteran thriller-writer, and this is a genuinely gripping page-turner.
Not since the arrival of John le Carre has the emergence of an international suspense novelist been as stunning as that of Gerald Seymour.
[Seymour] isn't just abreast of the headlines, [but] ahead of them.
Seymour may be the best spy novelist ever.
Suspense master Seymour dazzles with commanding language and meticulous detail.
In a class of his own.
Picking up a novel by Gerald Seymour is like taking a deep breath of fresh air . . . When readers get to the nailbiting climax, involving an agonising wait for airborne rescue, they may be wondering why they should bother with any other thriller writer.
The novel exemplifies Seymour's ability to create and control a large, vividly drawn ensemble who are unwittingly connected (in this case via two fed-up soldiers)… Also characteristic is a Hitchcockian skewing of the reader's sympathies, with the ostensible good guys in Whitehall shown as coldly ready to sacrifice lives, and the bomb-maker seen in the round as both killer and devoted husband.
After 28 novels, Seymour's empathy for those he ensnares in his moral minefields remains movingly even-handed.
A gripping thriller.
Mr Seymour is . . . on form . . . The tradecraft of silent watching and the discomfort, thirst and increasing claustrophobia of the hideout are brought very much to life . . . the grim landscape of the border region and the harsh lives of its inhabitants are skilfully evoked.
Great storytelling . . . You just have to read this novel as it is absolutely gripping.
Gerald Seymour is the grand-master of the contemporary thriller and Deniable Death is his greatest work yet. Gripping, revealing and meticulously researched, this is a page-turning masterpiece that will literally leave you breathless.
Seymour is not one to cut corners. He does his research, thinks hard about his story and gives us richly imagined novels that bristle with authenticity.
Seymour [is] incapable of creating a two-dimensional character.
Discerning thriller readers can safely say that the best practitioner currently working in the UK is the veteran Seymour. He is, quite simply, the most intelligent and accomplished in the current field . . . Here, we have a typically compromised Seymour anti-hero, a masterfully organised globe-spanning narrative and a mass of highly persuasive detail. The Dealer and the Dead is Seymour firing on all cylinders, and his rivals need, once again, to look to their laurels.
With Seymour, not only do you get a cracking story deftly told, but you also feel you are learning something.
One of the modern masters of the craft.
Gerald Seymour is considered the dabbest hand in the industry . . . still a master who executes his spy tales of murderous and political intrigue with rigour and flair. Seymour is a master at evoking the seemingly unchartable terrain of foreign landscapes - as a former reporter covering wars in Vietnam, Northern Ireland and Borneo, he brings to bear some every pertinent experience. His research into the espionage world is meticulous. Splendid stuff.
A vividly drawn ensemble of spooks, terrorists and civilians.
A vividly drawn ensemble of spokes, terrorists and civilians.
One of the most venerable names of the thriller genre, Gerald Seymour, showed that age was not withering him.
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A Deniable Death
By Gerald Seymour
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2011 Gerald Seymour
All rights reserved.
An unobtrusive man, he was noticed by few of the pedestrians who shared the steps with him that climbed to the pavements of Vauxhall Bridge in the November rain. He left behind him the cream and green walls and the darkened plate glass expanses of the building that those outside the disciplines of the Service called 'Ceausescu Towers' – the headquarters of MI6. He walked briskly. It was his job to move unseen and not to attract attention, even inside the Towers. Len Gibbons was known to few of those who passed through the security gates, morning and evening, alongside him, or shared the lift to and from the third floor where his desk, East 3-97/14, stood, or waited in the canteen lunch queue with him. The few who did know him, however, regarded this middle-grade manager as a 'safe pair of hands' and in the trade that was about as good an accolade as could be handed out. As a 'safe pair of hands', he was entitled to trust and responsibility and he had received both that afternoon at a meeting with the director general: no notes taken.
The word of the day was deniable. The meeting in itself was deniable, the matter discussed was deniable, and the conclusions reached were deniable. The actions that would be taken were also deniable. Len Gibbons had been called to the upper floors and briefed over a pot of tea and a shortbread biscuit. Take the bastard down, Len, would be the vulgar way to put it. Take him down and leave him on a kerb so that his head rolls in the gutter and the blood runs down the drain. Not, of course, that we like vulgarity. We might more politely call it 'interdiction'. Actually, I prefer 'take the bastard down'. It'll be deniable. My diary has me in the Cabinet Office fifteen minutes ago, and there all afternoon. So, go to it, Len, and know that many men – and widows – will be cheering you on. If you bring him down there will be cheering to the rafters. It's not the sort of thing we've done in years – a first in my time – but it has my total support ... as long as it stays deniable.
Half an hour later he had cleared his desk and, with a filled briefcase, had allowed his assistant to leave ahead of him. He had switched off the lights, locked the doors, and they had gone down to the central hall in the lift. They had swiped their cards at Security, walked out into the rain and headed for the bridge. He did not look back at the building, did not know how many days he would be away from it, and whether he would win or lose ... But the job would get his best effort. That, Len Gibbons guaranteed.
Across the bridge, he headed for the Underground station. He preferred to mingle with the masses that crowded the trains. He bought the two tickets and passed one over his shoulder, no turn of the head, no smile, to Sarah and felt her take it quickly, discreetly. Descending on the escalator he had the briefcase held tight across his chest, his coat sleeve hanging far enough forward to mask the chain linking the handle to the handcuff attachment on his wrist. Inside the briefcase were the maps, charts and lists for coded contact that would assist towards the state-sponsored killing of an individual whose life was considered forfeit ... all, of course, deniable.
He wore the years well, fifty-nine, and was physically fit, mentally alert, with good colour in his face. His trade demanded ordinariness rather than eccentricity, and there was little about him that those on the platform would remember: no sign of the hairstyle under the trilby and behind the beige scarf, no sight of his shirt or tie because the raincoat was buttoned high. The briefcase bore no EIIR, embossed in gold, which would have shown he was a servant of the state. If any had noted him, glanced quickly at the trilby, they might have thought him a rather boring man whose employment shelf life drifted to a close. They would have been wrong. God, in the Towers, had known Gibbons the length of his professional career, would have judged him a man of insight and acumen, but handicapped by a throw of the dice: those damned events that could derail any intelligence officer's career. He might appear a buffoon, might cultivate that image, might use it as a cover to divert attention from the reality of a stiletto-sharp mind. He trekked into the heavier rain as the afternoon closed dankly on Central London.
The Underground behind them, they passed the entrance to the Ritz Hotel, then skirted the south side of Piccadilly Circus – neither looked up at the Eros statue – and turned down into Haymarket. She came level to his elbow and murmured the number they should look for. He nodded. They were a team. The rain's drips fell regularly from his hat brim and her hair was soaked, but they made no small-talk about the awfulness of the weather. Probably her mind was swamped as his was with the enormity of what they hoped to achieve in the next hours and days – not weeks.
There was a doorway and, inside, newspapers were scattered instead of a mat. A man in commissionaire's uniform sat at a desk but they were not challenged and declined to use the lift. Instead they walked up two flights and slipped along a corridor of closed doors, none of which boasted the legend of a company or business. She had a Yale and two mortise keys out of her handbag and he stood at the side while she unfastened the door. Gibbons did not know when the Service had last used the premises, whether they were regular or occasional visitors. He assumed that a front company held the lease and that all connections to the Towers were well disguised. Old procedures died hard. No interior lights were switched on until Sarah had gone to the windows of both main rooms, the kitchenette behind a partition, the toilet and shower room and pulled down the blinds. There was a room with a desk, a chair, and a small settee for him, and a room with a desk, chair, portable TV and a folded single bed for her; there were cupboards for each of them, a safe with a combination lock. Now, the reserve on his face faded: that buzz, the adrenalin flush and the excitement surge replaced it. He was a bureaucrat and a small cog – by fate of circumstance – between large wheels and he accepted that, but he took pride in what he did. Usually he succeeded in providing what was asked of him. Bare walls confronted Len Gibbons and a wintry smile settled on his lips. She had emptied his case of photographs and the big folded map, and had the roll of Sellotape in her hand. She did not bother to ask him where she should display the images.
A ceiling light lit the desk on which were his phone, lap-top, notebooks, pencils and the paraphernalia that travelled with him. She chose the wall in his direct eye-line as the place to stick up the photographs. Some were classified and others were not. She fastened them in the same haphazard jumble in which they had been displayed before. There were pictures of armoured vehicles, all shapes and sizes, all wrecked – some turned right over, some on their sides and some left as debris because the wheels had gone, or the tracks. The craters in tarmacked roads leading straight across flat sand landscapes were great gouges – in some a soldier could have stood, the top of his helmet hidden. Still-frames, a quarter covered with Arabic text, showed a moment of detonation that had been downloaded from websites. There were clear portraits, taken with a macro-lens in extreme close-up, of the gear used in the bombs and their sophistication. He liked to know his enemy and thought it important to display the enemy's work and skills, to have them present around him at all times ... There were photographs from the party last Christmas at a rehabilitation home where young men with military haircuts, all amputees, waved stunted limbs defiantly at the camera ... and there was one magnified picture of a procession, slow and black, in the High Street of a country town. He had been with the operation from the beginning and thought now that, if his Maker was willing, it approached the end. At the beginning, two years and three months before, a man had sneezed.
* * *
He might have caught the mild dose of influenza from his wife or children. He had sneezed and gone back to his labour on the electronics bench.
He did not know that the sneeze would kick-start an operation launched from a far-away city. He had been bent over the bench and was wearing the magnification optics he used when working on the software he adapted with kit brought in from the United States. From the land of the Great Satan, he could obtain dual use passive infra-red devices or high-powered cordless phones with a range of near to seven miles from a base station, and dual-tone multi-frequency gear: the PIR, HPCP and DTMF, and the zappers for unlocking car doors and ... The Engineer used them to provide the electronic signal to improvised explosive devices and to his design of explosive formed projectiles. From the safety and security of his workshop he created the bombs that would be carried along the rat-runs that criss-crossed the border of his country with Iraq to kill and maim. The sneeze had been perfunctory, and he was able to get his handkerchief out from his trouser pocket to smother the second. He had not stopped in his work and had not thought through the consequences of that minor eruption in his nose.
Had he done so he might have realised that a fine film had scattered from his face. Some minuscule droplets had wafted down on to the bench and a few had come to rest on the circuit he was putting together.
He had gone on with his work methodically and carefully. He had built the explosive formed projectile. He had a production line in a small factory area behind his workshop and the shaped copper charge was manufactured there to high-precision standards by experienced technicians. By his late-morning break, he had completed the electronics of a killing kit capable of defeating the electronic counter-measures of his enemy, and had begun on another, using the same procedures and techniques. They could almost have been described as a signature. The device onto which he had sneezed was now sealed, boxed and ready for transportation.
He did not know that the device had failed to detonate. A 'trigger man', as the Great Satan's troops described the bomb layer and the peasant charged with firing the device, had panicked when an attack helicopter had flown low over the sand scrape in which he had hidden himself, some three hundred yards back from Highway 6, the convoy route. He had broken cover and run. Later, to gain the reward of ten American dollars, he had fabricated a story of an advancing foot patrol, the need to destroy the firing software, its burial and his flight. The Engineer did not know that the sight of the man emerging from his hiding place and sprinting towards nowhere had alerted the Apache crew: a follow-up had been mounted and the abandoned device retrieved. That had been four weeks and two days after the Engineer had sneezed at his workbench and given forensic scientists something akin to gold dust: a sample for DNA analysis.
At a laboratory in the west of England, a woman in a white suit with a face mask over her mouth and her hair in a shower-cap, would say: 'Christmas has come early. It has to be the man who put it together.' There had been a meeting of ammunition technical officers and explosive ordnance disposal experts and the intelligence had been fed to them. One, who had been to the Palace for a gallantry decoration and was said to have exhausted more lives than any streetwise tom-cat, had said, allowing himself a gallows-humour grin: 'We chance our bollocks when we're out in the donkey shit trying to defuse these things in the hope that we can get fingerprints, anything, a speck of blood, because the trigger rag-head cut himself on a thorn – and that's just to identify a foot-soldier. Here we have the DNA of the top man in the chain. We've got it on a plate. That's a hell of a start.' The chair of a committee of intelligence officers and agent handlers, gaunt from the weight of responsibility, had briefed: 'I'm assured that only a small number of men, experts in micro-engineering, are capable of making these things. As you all know, but it's worth repeating ad nauseam, four in every five of our own and US casualties are laid at the door of these wretched things.'
The Engineer knew nothing about the basic information his sneeze had provided. He had gone on working through a full day until a car had taken him home. He had eaten with his wife and he had told his children, Jahandar and Abbas, the ancient Persian fairy story of Simorgh, and of God's three sons, Prince Jamshid, Prince Q-mars and Prince Korshid. He had not known of the chasm he had made in his personal security when he sneezed ... Neither did he know that fifty- one days later a slim file would be handed to a journeyman intelligence officer charged with the co-ordination of an intelligence trawl.
* * *
She had to stand on tiptoe to fasten the top corners of the map to the wall with lengths of Sellotape.
He didn't help her, but sat down and swivelled away from the pictures of bomb damage. His shoes were on the corner of the desk and his chair tilted comfortably as he gazed at the map. Because Len Gibbons had never been to Iraq, let alone visited Iran, he had little understanding of the terrain, topography and general culture of the area. There were large yellow patches – desert – and a pair of narrow green strips that represented the cultivated, irrigated areas beside the Tigris and Euphrates rivers as they came to a confluence at al-Qurnah before going south as one. There was blue for what seemed to be great inland lakes with little symbols of marshland printed on them. Across the extreme eastern corner of the water- covered area was the bold mauve line of a frontier, and almost on that line, in what was marked as Iran, there was a bold cross in black ink.
She looked at him, and he nodded, all he would offer in the way of praise but Sarah would take no offence. He was, to her, a good man to work for, and she was on board for what the operation sought to achieve. She had no qualms about its morality. She stood for a moment, hands on hips, legs slightly apart, enough to tighten the skirt across her buttocks – but it would have taken more than that to awaken any interest in him. They shared the scent of pursuit and the excitement. She went to make a cup of tea, leaving him to stare at the map.
She could remember the day when his screen had exploded into life, when a sparse file had started to thicken. No one forgot such rare, febrile days.
* * *
It was three hundred and nineteen days after Rashid, the Engineer, had sneezed over his workbench that a man walked into the lobby of the British Consulate in the Gulf Emirates city of Dubai and requested a meeting with a diplomat.
The Engineer had gone to work late because he had spent the morning with a doctor in the town of Ahvaz. His wife had been examined because of the persistent, but still relatively mild, headaches that sapped her concentration at work. The doctor had prescribed aspirin and rest, so Rashid had taken Naghmeh back to their new home, then set off for his bench at the small factory. He did not know that an Iranian had requested asylum from the British authorities and would therefore be challenged to explain his value. He did not know that a spook attached to the staff, operating under consular cover, would say, 'You claim you are a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – you said your unit was from the al-Quds Brigade – but I have to ask what sort of information you might bring with you that would justify from us your asylum and safety. Facts, my friend, are the currency needed.'
And, of course, Rashid, the Engineer, did not know that a traitor who had been assigned as a guard to an inner perimeter of an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps camp on the road south from Ahvaz, was now in flight, and faced – if again in the custody of al-Quds – either stoning to death or strangulation at the end of a rope. Perhaps Rashid, the Engineer, had seen this guard as his Mercedes swept him through the gates of the compound; perhaps the man had swung them open and saluted. Rashid did not know that the man had denounced him because death faced him in his own country: his crime had been to defile a commander's daughter – the girl had been a willing party but now cried rape.
Excerpted from A Deniable Death by Gerald Seymour. Copyright © 2011 Gerald Seymour. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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