“ Genre: Fiction / Author: Stephen Leather / Narrator: Paul Thornley „
Fair Game by Stephen Leather
== Plot ==
This is the eighth novel in the Dan Sheperd series. He is a former SAS soldier. He used to work for the Met Police and then for SOCA (Serious Organised Crime Organisation), doing undercover work. He is now doing the same for MI5.
He lives in Hereford and has a teenage son, Liam and a sexy Slovenian au pair, Catra who looks after Liam, while Sheperd is away on undercover work.
This novel is written in the third person. We meet Dan Sheperd aka Spider at the beginning as he's undercover, working for the Real IRA as an enforcer.
One of their terrorist cells is planning to plant a bomb near to a police station in Belfast. At the last moment, the Real IRA find out there is an informer in the cell.
Spider has to break cover and rescue a Special Branch informant who is working in the cell.
Sheperd is then given a new mission early on in the novel.
It revolves around Simian Khalid aka Crazy Boy, who is a 24 year old Somali man. He owns a few businesses in Ealing, London. He is suspected of directing his family's piracy operations over in Somalia and then laundering the proceeds through his businesses in the UK.
MI5 thinks Al-Shabab, the Somali version of the Taliban are planning an attack on the West, with the help of the pirates. They think Crazy Boy may be funding them.
Shepherd is told that Crazy Boy is targeting specific ships to be hijacked and that he must be getting insider information.
He is put undercover to find out what is happening and put a stop to it . . .
== My thoughts ==
The Dan Shepherd series of novels aren't one of my favourites. I think there is too much padding in them with regards to the doubts Sheperd feels about his work, about killing etc and his personal life. A lot of this is repeated throughout the series of novels. From time to time though, they raise interesting ethical and moral questions.
This time Shepherd gets to work undercover in an office and gets to pose as an office man, instead of in a terrorist cell, bank robbers, rogue police unit etc.
I found it funny to find out that Dan Shepherd seems to like Andy McNab's novels as he keeps them on his book shelf, as he takes a few of his novels with him when he goes on a certain journey in the book.
The story on the whole features Somali pirates. I reviewed a novel the other week by Andy McNab, Dead Centre which also was about Somalia. It was read by the same narrator also, Paul Thornley. I liked his reading style in this and the voice he uses for Shepherd compared to another narrator who has read some of the other novels in this series.
Both novels are about Somali pirates but the styles they are written in are completely different. I would say this is more realistic and grittier.
I learnt a lot about Somali culture and customs. I didn't know for example, that Kat, the leaves that Somali's like to chew on and get high on, are currently not illegal in the UK.
You get to see both Sheperd as he's working and then his personal life as well when he's with his teenage son, Liam. I am not too keen on the personal parts. I find his son annoying. In this, he wants to go to boarding school and he still likes to play football.
Sheperd has a sexy young au pair to look after Liam and it is refreshing to see that he still hasn't jumped into bed with her after all these novels.
There's also the appearance of Caroline Stockman, his shrink who does a psychological review every few months to make sure he is still ok to carry on doing undercover work. Shepherd moans about this review as usual, but in the end he sits down and talks to her. I'm pretty certain the same kind of thing happened in the last novel. I didn't really think it served any real purpose, especially as I've read all the other novels in the series so by now I know what he thinks of his shrink. It just felt like extra padding and it gives Shepherd a chance to discuss the rights and wrongs of killing and moan about his job.
Some people may like to read the parts dealing with Shepherd's personal life, and they may feel it helps with character development, but I prefer the parts of the novel that are directly related with him being undercover and with him trying to make sure he doesn't make any mistakes. I also like the parts when we get to see the bad guys going about doing their own thing.
There's three separate threads in this. The first is to do with Shepherd and his life, the second is to do with the Somali pirates and the main bad guy (Crazy Boy) and the third is to do with the Real IRA. The story switches from one to the other as the narrative progresses. They all converge by the end.
You get a recap of the main events in Shepherd's life so you don't strictly need to read the earlier books in this series to get used to Shepherd's personal life. As I've read all the previous novels, I found it quite boring when Shepherd talks to his shrink as he goes over moral arguments about killing, his past etc that I've already read about in the previous novels.
A lot of the other scenes for example between Shepherd and his boss, Charlotte Button and his son, seemed familiar in the kind of content they featured and style from earlier novels.
I was annoyed by the way that Shepherd keeps repeating and moaning about his old job at SOCA with everyone he meets. His favourite phrase to describe it is 'There were too many chiefs and not enough Indians'.
I won't say what they were but there were a few surprises and twists that made the novel worth reading though. One of the subplots continues somewhat from the last novel in this series with the Real IRA after Shepherd as he killed two of their colleagues in the last book and some more in this one. Saying that, you get filled into the back-story, so you don't strictly need to have read the last novel to understand what is going on.
I liked the second half of this, than the first. In the first half, we get to see more of Shepherd's personal life whereas during the latter part of the novel, it moves for the most part to concentrate on his undercover work.
I did feel the length of this could have been trimmed down considerably though. It took me much longer to finish listening to this than it normally does, being more than 15 hours long.
I thought the novel raised some interesting points around immigration. Crazy Boy is a Somali pirate that has been given citizenship even though he has entered the country illegally, is a criminal and has married a fat ugly bird just to get a British passport. The character of Crazy Boy is fictional but I do think the author makes a valid point about the UK giving asylum to terrorists and criminals. I think the UK should be able to throw out people they know for definite that they could be a danger to the UK or its interests without worrying about human rights, especially when it comes to unsavoury characters like criminals and terrorists.
It also seems like the military taskforce patrolling the ocean near Somalia to protect ships from being hijacked, can't really do much. They aren't allowed to shoot at pirates or blow their boats out of the water. When they catch some pirates, they can't really do much with them if they are in international waters. They have to set them free usually.
== Audio narration ==
This is produced by Isis Audio Books and was published in 2011. It is unabridged and is 15 hours 20 mins in length. The version I have is on 15 CDs. It is read by Paul Thornley who does a good job especially when voicing the female characters. I've listened to him read a few audio books recently, and I think I am starting to get used to his voice.
You may be able to pick this up from your local library. This is priced at £34.49 on the ISIS Publishing site (http://www.isis-publishing.co.uk)
== Summary and recommendation ==
To sum up, I thought it raised some interesting questions around immigration and piracy. I liked some of the turns and twists in this, but it felt too long. I would have preferred it if it had been made much shorter. Most of the audio books I listen to are around the 10 to 12 hour mark, whereas this is 15 hours plus. I would have enjoyed it more had it been shorter.
I would therefore have to give it three stars. I found it an average read.