Author: Stephen Leather
ISBN: 978 0 340 92499 0
ISBN pback : 978 0 340 92500 3

No question that Stephen Leather’s latest thriller, False Friends, is a nail biting, riveting read. Set in Pakistan and London it focuses on international terrorism from both sides of the spectrum – Muslim extremists and wealthy white businessmen. Separated by equally destructive ideologies, both groups want to change society so that only their belief systems and prejudices are allowable. Unaware of each other’s existence, these two separate organisations share a common goal – absolute power and if they have to murder and maim to get their desired result, well… so be it.

Stephen Leather is one of the UK’s most popular thriller writers and it’s easy to understand why. I don’t normally read action thrillers as past forays into this genre have only ever revealed shallow characters, hell bent on a guts-and-gory-glory mission. False Friends is different; it's a good story with depth to the characterizations. The main character, Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd, an MI5 operative, has standards which include protection of his agents, not shooting an unarmed target and if violence is unavoidable, gets it done but doesn’t enjoy it. Two of the good guys are young Muslim men motivated by horror at the acts planned by a small number of crazy misfits at their local Mosque. How refreshing that Stephen Leather has chosen to depict Muslims as the same as the rest of us; shocked and disgusted by random attacks that kill innocent bystanders.

The story takes off at high speed; Spider has been sent along as an observer on the US Navy Seal mission to find/capture Bin Laden. Not too far into the storming of Bin Laden’s compound Spider realizes that capture isn’t part of the agenda; the Seal’s are on an assassination mission. He registers strong disapproval at the shooting of unarmed men (one identified as Bin Laden) but when push comes to shove his voice doesn’t carry any weight. Bin Laden’s corpse is removed from the compound to be buried at sea.

The location of the compound was supplied to MI5 by two Muslim informants, Chaudhry and Malik. University students, they tipped MI5 off about a violent subversive group run by Khalid, a member of their Mosque, and in record time find themselves enlisted as MI5 agents, their task –  locate Bin Laden’s home plate. Sent by Khalid to a mujahideen training camp in Pakistan they meet Bin Laden and pass on his address to MI5. Figuring they’ve done their duty, Chaudhry and Malik want a return to anonymity and their lives as London students but MI5 has other ideas; they are persuaded to stay in the Muslim extremist group to gather info on their future activities. Spider becomes their handler and although he does his best to protect them, I empathized with these two young men (little more than boys) caught up in a situation where playing the roles of  false friends often leads to a very unpleasant demise.

Meanwhile, Spider has been seconded to work undercover as an arms dealer in order to trap a group of wealthy business men who want to buy a barrow load of AK47’s, grenades and anything else that’s going, to do heaven knows what, to heaven knows whom. Spider nips the nut cases ambitions in the bud, in time to get in on the Muslim extremist group’s violent plan which has been designed to get top billing in the international media. Be prepared for a heart pounding, pulse racing ending – serious excitement, folks.

Think Stephen Leather might have a new fan; I really enjoyed False Friends. It’s a topical, well written thriller which presents a problem which besets governments worldwide; how to offer haven to genuine political immigrants while ensuring that members of extremist groups aren’t allowed entry to destroy the safety of existing communities.               


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