As someone who has an enduring fascination with the far-right, Adam Hamdy’s Black 13 was a novel that I was looking forward to reading.
I must stress at this point, that my fascination with the far-right doesn’t translate into approval or support, quite the reverse. But as a former current affairs television journalist, I was always interested in how people bought into their poisonous ideology. I worked on many a programme that looked at the far-right and spent many an hour studying them. But the best way to educate people is not documentaries or non-fiction, important as these mediums are, but to incorporate such research into popular entertainment. And that’s exactly what Adam Hamdy has done with Black 13.
Scott Pearce is an ex-MI6 officer, and former SAS man, who’s been exiled by the spy agency. After single-handily foiling a major terror attack in Pakistan, Pearce was convinced there was a wider conspiracy and despite being ordered not to, continued to investigate. Dismissed as a crank and conspiracy theorist, he was forced out and now continues his investigation off-the-grid while working as a climbing instructor. When a lawyer turns up in Thailand where he’s working with footage of a former colleague lying dead on a London street with two thugs standing over him, Pearce is dragged into a major far-right conspiracy that threatens bloodshed the likes of which the UK has rarely seen.
Black 13 is first and foremost a high-octane and gripping spy thriller, in the genre of Jason Bourne. The action is well portrayed, and it is an exciting and page-turning read. This is a book that has film or tv-series adaptation written all over it. But while it can be enjoyed simply on that level, there is a bit more depth to the novel than that.
For a start, the author has done his research on military and espionage topics and there are a number of revealing passages that hint at some of the capabilities in use by the intelligence services. I worked in current affairs television for almost twenty years and in that time I made a number of contacts of my own. There were points in the book where I read things that I know aren’t widely disseminated.
More important is the author’s use of the far-right as the plank of the novel’s plot. Far-right violence is the single fastest-growing threat, and while still dwarfed by that of Islamist terror, it’s quickly catching up. It’s high time that popular entertainment takes note of this, as this is how issues are disseminated most widely. While as a former current affairs journalist I have nothing but respect and appreciation for serious journalism and non-fiction, I’m under no illusions that it’s through popular entertainment – computer games, Hollywood movies, music, genre fiction – that awareness is raised most. Again, the author’s clearly done his research and has familiarised himself with the far-right.
This leads me to my only criticism of the novel, and it’s a small one. The author is at pains at points in the narrative to suggest that it is at the extremes of politics where the danger lies and seems to suggest that the far-left is as dangerous as the far-right. While this is undoubtedly true in the broader, historical sense (few would deny that Stalin was as much of a monster as Hitler) it is simply not true in the current climate in which the book is set. The violence of such groups as Antifa is undoubtedly troubling and counter-productive but simply pales into insignificance when compared with groups such as Combat 18 or National Action. Find me an Antifa equivalent of Anders Breivik who murdered 77 and injured over 319. Or the Christchurch perpetrator who murdered 51 and injured 40.
In conclusion, Black 13 is a brilliant novel, a page-turner than can be enjoyed on the beach but also carries an important message. This is a great read and I look forward to the next book in the series.
James Pierson 5/5*
Black 13 by Adam Hamdy
978-1529035131 Macmillan Hardcover January 2020