Abigail Jones, aka Alpha Juliette, is an MI6 agent in Iraq. She develops some sources across the border in Iran that help her identify the engineer who is developing the sophisticated IEDs that are causing so much death and injury to allied troops in Iraq and Afganistan. She also learns that the engineer’s wife is seriously ill and will be travelling to seek medical expertise outside Iran. If MI6 knows where they will be travelling then they can “interdict” the engineer with help from the Americans and the Israelis.
But the sources inside Iran are killed and so an alternative method of finding out the destination is needed. The decision is made to send in two experts in CROP - Covert Rural Observation Posts. They will set up position near the engineer’s house and listen with a microphone for the all important destination.
The two men picked are nicknamed Badger and Foxy. They have never worked together before and take an instant dislike to each other. Badger is young and has a natural talent for the role of a “croppie”.Foxy is older, more experienced and most importantly he knows Farsi.
However Foxy is also a little full of his own self importance. For example as he lies in the hide he imagines working the experience into an anecdote in his next lecture.
The novel describes their covert entry into Iran and vividly describes their experiences in the mosquito ridden marshes as they wait, watching and listening for any hint of where the engineer and his wife will be travelling. Across the border Abigail Jones waits with her protection team to help extract Badger and Foxy as curious locals edge closer.
In typical Seymour fashion the “opposition” are not faceless and evil. We get to know the engineer, his wife and their security “goon” Mansoor. We get to know the motivations of each and sympathize a little despite their actions.
Gerald Seymour routinely turns out high quality work but every now and then one of the books is exceptional. I think this is one of the exceptional ones. The final section of the book is agonisingly tense.
The book is bookended by descriptions of repatriations of British service personnel through the town of Wootton Bassett. In another author’s hands the passages would feel like extraneous material inserted for their topicality. It’s hard to imagine this book without them.