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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Land of Ghosts

Someone in Russia is working hard on a hit list and, as the body count mounts, Russian government officials are getting more and more nervous about the situation. One by one, those most guilty of brutalizing Chechens during the ongoing fight between the Russian military and Chechen rebels demanding independence, are being eliminated. Be they former generals, jailers or interrogators, someone has a list of the worst offenders, and he is checking names off that list at a steady pace.

But the Russians are not the only ones worried. The British government has managed to plant a Secret Intelligence Service agent so deeply within a fierce group of Chechen rebels that he has become second-in-command to the group’s charismatic leader. Now his handlers have reason to suspect that Rufus Graham has gone rogue and may be directly involved in the Russian assassinations. Fearing the serious political crisis certain to erupt if the Russian government connects a British secret service agent to the killings inside Russia, the British government wants to bring Graham back to England.

Luckily, the agency has the perfect man for the job in Paul Tallis, an experienced MI5 field operative who happens to have been Rufus Graham’s best boyhood friend. Tallis, unwilling to believe that the boy he lost contact with all those years ago could be guilty of what SIS suspects of him, agrees to bring Graham home – or to kill him if the worst is true and he refuses to leave Chechnya.

E.V. Seymour takes the reader deep inside a conflict during which the Russian army used horrific force against the civilian population in order to break the will of a people fighting for its independence. What she portrays is not pretty. Land of Ghosts is a story of brutality and torture from both sides of the conflict, but the behavior of the Russian invaders was particularly vicious. Russian soldiers used rape, torture, murder, and the burning and looting of villages as ways to discourage civilian support for the rebels they fought. Chechen rebels, on their part, were likely to brutalize and torture the Russian soldiers that fell into their hands.

Land of Ghosts, however, is about more than men killing each other for political reasons. It is about friendship, love, and how people are changed by constant exposure to the horrors of war. Seymour peoples her story with interesting characters that include a newly minted Russian millionaire willing to help Tallis for the sheer adventure of it and the Chechen woman who prepares him for his mission while fighting her own expulsion from the U.K. Tallis even finds a bit of romance amidst the chaos of wartime Chechnya and grows close to the young Muslim who insists on helping him negotiate his way through the dangerous landscape he must cross.

Even those for whom Land of Ghosts is their first Paul Tallis book, will come away with a good understanding of what makes him tick because Seymour provides the backstory and side plot associated with a good standalone novel. Much in the tradition of James Bond, Paul Tallis achieves the seemingly impossible over and over again, surviving situations that often do in the lesser men around him while he moves one square closer to his goal. That kind of thing is built into this genre. If you are a fan, you already know that and will not want to miss this one.

Rated at: 4.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)
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