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Book review: Oliver's Army by Solomon Hughes

MAT COWARD looks at the Star writer’s thrilling exposé of the privatised war industry

Morning Star readers probably consider themselves fairly knowledgeable about the various forms of wickedness and crookedness that abound in the modern world. 

But I promise you won’t be able to keep still while reading Solomon Hughes’s debut thriller Oliver’s Army. Eyes will pop, jaws drop and heads will shake with amazement.

In his work for the Star and for Private Eye Hughes has shown himself a master of the difficult craft of picking the bones out of documents reluctantly coughed up by the Freedom of Information Act. 

It’s this background in research, investigation and interpretation that allows the author to shock even a well-informed reader.

The novel’s protagonist, left-wing parliamentary researcher Danny Patten, has inherited from Hughes the ability to analyse the obfuscations in an official report and work out just what it is that they might be hiding. 

In 2005, following the illegal invasion of Iraq, his attention is focused on the dodgy contracts being handed out to the mercenary gangs who’ve been employed to loot and suppress on behalf of Western companies and their client governments. 

The mind-blowing cynicism, criminality and incompetence of the privatised war industry provides some good press for Danny’s “old Labour” MP boss and satisfies Danny’s own desire to hit back at the warmongers.

The mercenaries, not unreasonably, are in Iraq to make as much money as possible. Their wages for killing ungrateful natives account for only a portion of that pot of gold. 

The real prizes come from ripping off the US and British governments, if you’re a senior man, or running rackets if you’re one of the foot-soldiers. 

Ex-British army major Oliver Fitzwilliam has become fed up with grovelling for the crumbs available to mere sub-contractors. To this end he arrives in London, looking to hire some spin-doctors and influence-peddlers who can help him win one of the high-reward, low-risk, main contracts.

Unfortunately, Fitzwilliam isn’t used to fighting his battles on a terrain dominated by canapes and white wine and the revelations Danny is unearthing about his past cover-ups are threatening to ruin everything. 

As the desperation of Oliver and his disloyal lieutenants turns to paranoia, Danny Patten is in deadly danger.

A good old-fashioned page-turner, studded with satire and some delightful episodes of farce, Solomon Hughes’s first novel entertains even as it agitates.

 

Wild Wolf ebook, £1.83

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