No, I didn’t get drunk last night but I did spend my evening tearing through Stephen Leather’s ‘Black Ops.’ To put this in context, I posted a tweet about a week or so ago mentioning that I’d just raced through a 130 pages of a novel in a sitting. Then real life intervened and I wound up reading ‘Black Ops’ in fits and starts – never a good way to read a book – which always makes me feel faintly guilty on behalf of the writer. Anyway, I put things straight last night by saving the final furlong for a thumping good read.
Part of the Spider Shepherd series, Spider is given one of his most testing missions to date: to spy on his boss, Charlie Button, who it’s feared has gone rogue. Things aren’t much better on the personal front when Spider’s sixteen year-old son is caught with drugs. To ‘get him off’ a custodial sentence, Spider is forced to unmask a dealer for the police. Oh, and did I mention the grieving father who holds Putin responsible for the downed Malaysian plane over Ukraine? Well, Spider is tasked to prevent the assassination of the foreign head of state on UK territory. Throw in an assassin or two and a couple of Real IRA terrorists, and you get the picture: it’s a rollercoaster of thrills, surprises, double dealing and real politic. Only a writer of Leather’s calibre can juggle so many plot lines without confusion and dropping pace. For me, what also sets him aside is his amazing topicality. He really is ‘on the button’ and I can only dare to imagine from where he gets his information. Either that or the guy has a crystal ball. A couple of times I closed the book (briefly, you understand) muttered the equivalent of ‘Crikey’, thought about what I’d just read in black and white, told myself it was fiction, wasn’t it? And, dazed, read on. I love it when a writer does this. Leather makes you think. He challenges what often is taken for granted when it comes to the ‘powers that be’. Whether they are police, spooks or politicians, even our hero, nobody emerges without dirt on their hands. If you want a cosy, rosy-tinted view of the world with good guys and bad guys, forget it, but for realism, insight and sheer blood and guts, it doesn’t get much better than this.
‘Black Ops’ is published by Hodder and Stoughton.