The Taliban caves in Afghanistan, former IRA hideaways in Belfast, Mogadishu ... it sounds like a best of (or should that be worst of) the most dangerous places on Earth. Places you really don't want to end up in. I kept half expecting Ross Kemp and a camera crew to put in a cameo performance ! Just looking at the list of locations, you automatically know that this book will be filled with danger, action and bloodshed.
Working for the SAS, the main character Jack Harker ends up in all of these places and it's just in a day's work. Some of the death scenes are so cavalier and show such a total disregard for human life that they are hard to stomach. Good guys and bad guys, even innocent women and children, are gunned down almost randomly and the author seems to take an almost gleeful delight in describing how the rounds entering their bodies turn their faces into mincemeat.
But what makes these scenes of horror and graphic violence all the more unbearable and stomach-churning is knowing how authentic it all is. This is the reality told as it is, no holds-barred, from a person who knows. As his author page on Amazon reveals, The Kill Zone is almost autobiographical. "Chris Ryan was born in 1961 in a village near Newcastle. In 1984 he joined the SAS. Less than a week after the outbreak of the last Gulf War, Ryan and 7 fellow SAS soldiers were dropped by helicopter deep in the Iraqi desert. Their mission was to locate and destroy Saddam Hussein's mobile Scud missile launches but it ended in catastrophic failure with three men dead and four captured and tortured by the Iraqis.Chris Ryan was the one who got away. For 7 days he avoided capture, covering 188 miles of desert in subzero temperatures with no food and little water. His remarkable escape was the longest in the history of the Regiment and earned him a Military Medal. Ryan wrote about his experiences in the bestseller, The One That Got Away. During his ten years in the SAS, Ryan was involved in overt and covert operations. His missions included training Presidential bodyguards in Columbia, defending the British Embassy in Zaire from rioting mobs, and in Northern Ireland he was the Sniper team commander of the anti-terrorist unit. During Ryan's last two years in the Regiment he selected and trained potential SAS recruits, he left the SAS in 1994." So, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Jack Harker is just a fictionalised self-portrait.
The Kill Zone shows us Jack the tough-as-nails SAS soldier but also his softer side as a father and ex-partner. He may be an efficient and cold killing machine but he does have an Achilles heel, in the form of his ex-partner Siobhan and their missing daughter Lily. Siobhan, a highly trained undercover cop who infiltrates the drug rings and former-IRA circles in Belfast, is as tough and fearless as Jack. But despite their resilience, even Jack and Siobhan find it hard-going as they are swept into a spiral of violence, death and international terrorism that catches even them by surprise.
I did find the descriptions of the Taliban enemies a little stereotypical but it's still a great read, with more than one chilling twist that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The Kill Zone is a fast-paced, hard-hitting and action-packed novel that is "one for the guys" but will also appeal to female readers. It may at times be hard to stomach but it is even harder to put down.
star rating : 4.5/5
RRP : £18.99
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Coronet (16 Sep 2010)
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