The Unknown Soldier

the-unknown-soldierby Gerald Seymour

Gerald Seymour’s exciting, indeed, almost irresistible, The Unknown Soldier (Overlook, 2005), moves the spy novel ever more decisively in the direction it’s been going lately — no more bad Russians (except the oligarchy), good-bye to le Carré’s Karla and his clones in lesser fictions, and hello terrorists.  In Seymour’s case, the search for a suspected terrorist, a detainee mistakenly released from prison on Guantanamo, takes place in the Empty Quarter of the Saudi Arabian desert—a place so alien, foreign, and inherently dangerous that only the Bedouin tribesmen can exist there.  But American and British agents believe that a member of Al-Qaeda is crossing the sands with a load of Stinger missiles and the murder of Westerners on his mind.  Can all that superior American technology locate him in the empty vastness of the Rub’ al Khālī, as the desert area is known?  Like all good spy novels, this raises important ancillary issues:  Do two wrongs ever make a right?  Is murder justified in the name of patriotism?  Is it ever right to betray your country?  Seymour’s characters are three-dimensional, the plot moves along smartly (great for an airplane trip), and the politics are enlightening.  (Another novel with the Rub’ al Khālī as its setting is Josephine Tey’s The Singing Sands, one of the saddest mysteries I’ve ever read.)

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