Author: John Henry Bennett

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (August 5, 2012)
ISBN-10: 1478360429
         ISBN-13: 978-1478360421

I’m perhaps coining a somewhat inaccurate term, but while reading Pigs I felt like I was experiencing my first espionage procedural. That’s because, page after unfolding page, I really felt like I was witnessing a layered series of events in a very realistic “you are there” documentary style. 

It all begins with the actual Buncefield Oil Terminal disaster of Sunday, December 11, 2005. It was the largest explosion on mainland Britain since WWII. In reality, it took years for any causes to be identified—it was finally determined that likely a failure with a switch or alarm attached to one tank resulted in an oil overflow that night.

But in Benet’s imagination, while investigators weren’t initially sure if the disaster was an accident or a terrorist act, readers are quickly notified it was a bomb planted by an Islamic agent in a “pig,” a device used to clean oil pipes. In the story, investigators were hampered by having no one taking credit for the strike.  That was and is unusual behavior for Jihadists who usually want very public recognition for their blows against the West. 

In the aftermath of the explosion, we are taken to the offices of important government ministers, the offices of intelligence officers who are British, French, and Israeli, observe camera clicking surveillance teams, and go into meetings of a multi-national terrorist cell. We meet a wide cast of well-drawn characters and follow them around, step by step, day by day, as they methodically determine just who was responsible for the explosion. And, as the story progresses, we watch the terrorists hatch their next scheme to blow up an oil platform in Qatar, a country they consider too cozy with the West. That’s just the next item on their vicious wish list before a serious attempt to plant a dirty bomb in London.

With his background, it shouldn’t be surprising that Bennett was able to fill his yarn with so much international verisimilitude. While serving in the British army, he spent time in the Middle East before he had a commercial career in the UK, France, the Middle East and Gulf. His travels included London, Paris, Doha Qatar, Dubai UAE, Jeddah Saudi Arabia, Eastern Europe, Hungary, Russia, Asia, North America, and Africa. His publicity doesn’t indicate any background in intelligence, so we don’t know if experience or research lead to all those operational details and personal interactions he provides. 

Before the increasingly exciting final 100 pages or so, there is little glamour in the investigations, very minimal violence, little high drama or pyrotechnics, many interagency turf wars, and the obligatory politicos working to make sure no blame falls on them. In addition, we see much simple low-tech legwork in various settings before it all comes together in a London showdown where another pig is employed in the heart of the city’s sewer system.

So Bennett’s Mi-6 operative Harry Baxter, head of a three person team looking into the possibility of terrorism in the Buncefield disaster, is a very believable globe trotter in the trilogy that began with Pigs and continued in Porkies (2015) and  Lies, Damn Lies (May 2017). You can be sure—this reviewer plans to read the other two volumes this year. For those who like their spy adventures down-to-earth, topical, and down-and-dirty without the exaggerated elements of the likes of Fleming, Ludlum, or Higgins,  give Pigs a try. It’s an engrossing ride even without the over-the-top aspects of other thriller writers.