Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Book Review: Dark Forces by Stephen Leather

Dark Forces by Stephen Leather
Published by Hachette New Zealand

A foreign war is about to come to Britain and not even an army can stop it

Dark Forces is a thriller novel that will keep you guessing until the very last pages. Following the narrative of two completely different characters, it focuses on a topic very close to home - terrorist attacks by the Islamic State. 

Dan 'Spider' Shepherd is an undercover agent for MI5 working to bring down a South London gang. He has a photographic memory that makes him useful for other side missions, including gathering intel on jihadist Muslims who are being smuggled into the UK from Syria. These two missions intersect when the authorities become aware of a terrorist plot about to be carried out.

Mohammed al-Hussain is a highly skilled sniper who is extremely loyal to the Islamic State. He is smuggled into the UK to use his skills in this attack and he is willing to do anything for his cause.

This is the thirteenth novel in the Spider Shepherd series and having not read any of the previous twelve books, I was curious to see how this one would stand as a first-read. I was pleasantly surprised by the way the backstory (and there has been a lot of it) was handled. I felt well introduced to Dan Shepherd and any lingering questions I had about his character were answered throughout the book. I also feel intrigued to go back and read the others, as although key plot points were revealed for some of them, the books would still be interesting to read if they are anything like this one.

I enjoyed reading about Shepherds home life. As he is undercover in this book it takes a backseat but Shepherd is a solo Dad to a teenage boy, and it is interesting to see how his job (or what his son knows about it anyway) affects the choices being made by his son Liam.  

I found the book quite slow going. The cover made big promises of a huge terrorist war but most of the book focuses on Shepherd's undercover operation, as well as al-Hussain's trip from Syria. However in the last 50 or so pages, the action ramps up, all the pieces fall together and the plans are finally revealed. You are kept in the dark about pretty much every detail of the attack so it is exciting to read how it unfolds. Once you get through the bulk of the book, make sure you set aside some time to finish it without being interrupted - it's worth it.

Trigger warnings - as with most thrillers there is some very descriptive violence. There is a torture scene and mention of rape, although this is not as descriptive. It also brings the realities of a modern war to mind. This was actually quite terrifying for me as I felt very removed from this concept. 

I spent a lot of my teenage years (and recently if I'm being honest) reading Young Adult spy novels like the CHERUB and HENDERSON'S BOYS series by Robert Muchamore and the ALEX RIDER series by Anthony Horowitz. This book feels like a natural progression into adult fiction of the same genre. If you enjoy the spy thriller genre, you will enjoy this book.

Thanks to Hachette for providing me with a copy of this book for review.

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