“The Good Jihadist” by Bob Shepherd (Simon and Schuster) – novel review

The Good Jihadist Bob Shepherd book reviewPakistan is a tinderbox: Pashtun and Baluch peoples  campaigning (not always peacefully) for nationalism, Afghan Taliban with a different agenda to Pakistan Taliban, an oil pipeline being built for the  Chinese which is displacing local people angered by compulsory purchases of their land and homes and a government under increasing external pressure plus private security firms offering bodyguards for diplomats and journalists, the latter under pressure to produce news to feed executive hunger for twenty-four hour rolling news programmes. This is the background Matt Logan finds himself up against. Logan left the SAS rather than fudge the details of what he witnessed to suit an official version of events and wound up babysitting diplomats for a private security firm whilst trying to save to buy a home in his native Scotland.

Logan’s girlfriend is equally disillusioned. Emma Cameron wanted to go into journalism but ended up as a pretty face in front of a TV camera. Her presence in Pakistan irks her predecessor, Patriot Pete, who found that years of experience didn’t count for anything when he made a career-ending mistake and moved sideways into creating his own production company which is foundering because he doesn’t know how to collect and gather news, just how to present it. He tries to recruit Emma, giving her a flash drive. The documents on the flash drive create a dilemma: if genuine they represent a chance for Emma to breakaway from her current job, however, given their source, their reliability is suspect. Emma sensibly passes the flash drive to a contact of hers in the CIA. The detonation of an improvised explosive device means she’s called to do a piece to camera just outside Islamabad from a rooftop with two minarets of a mosque in the background.

Logan is half-listening to a job offer via an American special forces contact now also in the private security business with one eye on the TV. Naturally, when Emma appears, his attention is completely taken. He and millions of other viewers watch as Emma’s neck jerks, an explosion is heard and Emma collapses having sustained fatal injuries. Suddenly Logan is very interested in the job offer, private security for a journalist who works for the same TV company as Emma because it takes him back to Pakistan and offers the potential opportunity to avenge his girlfriend’s death.

Firstly he has to take a crash course in Pakistani politics and learn who’s allied with whom, who could potentially be allied with whom and discovers nothing can be taken at face value. His naivety leaves him stumbling like a bull in a china shop and enables others to treat him as a pawn, until he learns what Emma had discovered.

Bob Shepherd handles the complex plot skilfully without losing the reader or undermining the credibility of the scenario described. Events are described on a need-to-know basis, allowing readers to focus on the action with no lengthy descriptive passages to hold up the pace. The prose is precise and muscular with no unnecessary adjectives. So muscular, that it’s squeezed out any sense of character and has to come with a ‘this is fiction’ disclaimer. Logan is solid enough, grief pushing him into action as a substitute for mourning, but readers don’t see much of his relationship with Emma. Readers do meet Emma but never learn what made her decide to start and then stay in a relationship with Logan, other than physical attraction. The relationship therefore feels no more real than the temporary political alliances whose only constant is that are shifting taking place around Logan. The reader is asked to fill in the emotional gaps, making “The Good Jihadist” ripe for fan fiction. If you’re looking for muscular, intelligent fiction that moves as fast as you can turn pages, this is your novel.

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