Black 13 is an exhilarating read, the first in a new series featuring Scott Pearce, ex-special forces, ex-MI6. This is a conspiracy thriller that has a lot to say about these uncertain times and the shifting geo-political situation. Black 13 is an organisation that prefers the shadows, their business is fermenting division and exploiting tensions within society for their own ends, they don’t respect national boundaries or laws and they don’t believe the meek should inherit the earth. Up to now they’ve worked under the radar but that’s about to change. The problem is governments aren’t even aware of the threat and yet incrementally Black 13’s actions are undermining democracy. This novel is genuinely disturbing, realistic and all too credible. Black 13 is action packed and very well plotted, fans of the Pendulum series will feel at home immediately and new fans will flock to it. It feels like Hamdy’s previous novels, good as they are, have been building towards this epic, accomplished adventure. This novel asks questions that may make readers reconsider some of the things they take for granted about our battered crumbling democracies.

Black 13 is high octane, it’s prescient, perhaps this is even a glimpse of things to come if the chips fall a certain way and because this novel is ahead of the game it’s an intelligent read. It’s also thought provoking in other ways, unlike many action thrillers this is more than bangs and chases. Black 13 reflects modern society and it’s diversity, it values difference, it values people for who they are not what they are; their religion, sexuality and race. Scott Pearce is every inch the action hero but contemporary covert warfare demands different skill sets. Look out for Leila, wheelchair user, lesbian and all round powerhouse. This is a refreshing perspective in a full on thriller.

Black 13 feeds on tectonic shifts in world affairs, the increasing polarisation and fragmentation within nations, political demagoguery and the growing influence of uber-international forces. The novel begins as an up close and personal story of jeopardy, the woes of a handful of characters, gradually upscaling until readers get a proper sight of the conspiracy, the real danger emerges.

The novel opens with Nathan Foster, 87 kills to his name, men, women and children, he tells himself that he did it so that ordinary people could sleep safe in their beds at night. After the services came civvy street; a poky office, vodka for breakfast and little more than pin money from seedy investigations of extra-marital affairs. Then the lawyer turned up, Melody Gold seduced him with an offer, an investigation of Bayard Madison Bank. Foster was back in the big time thanks to an anonymous client with deep pockets. The job took Foster to No. 1 Undershaft, London, the HQ of Bayard Madison Bank, he’s bluffed his way in, he’s heading for the server room on the 27th floor. He needs to get proof of his suspicions before he can report back to the client. Foster knows he can deliver, he knows he wasn’t first choice, that was Scott Pearce but Pearce didn’t want to be found. Foster steps into the air cooled server room, he doesn’t see the men waiting for him until it’s way too late.

Scott Pearce is running his own operation half way round the world in Thailand when his mate runs into trouble. Pearce is a born soldier, he spent time with the Increment, a special unit of the SAS before MI6. He left when his investigation of a rogue nuclear operation within the Pakistan government was exposed. The operation was shut down too quickly. That’s why he was hunting weapons in Thailand. As cover he’s got himself a fake identity, Bobby is a free climbing instructor/adventurer, that allows Pearce to explore the small islands. He’s looking for a cache of weapons that will confirm a lead he’s been following; Islamabad, Bangladesh, Bangkok, and, finally, Railay. One last island, one last plateau to check out.

With Foster dead, Melody Gold reignites the search for Pearce. Eventually tracking him down to Railay beach. When Pearce sees the woman waiting for him he’s wary. Melody is alone in the bar but he spots two minders outside. She introduces herself, making it clear she knows his real name, his cover is blown. She has a job for Pearce, he isn’t interested until she explains what happened to Nathan Foster, his old friend. The watchers aren’t her guys so Pearce and Melody need to make a hasty escape, they head back to London. When they arrive back in the UK they get a warm reception, they are going to need friends, including Leila, Scott has always been able to trust her and she is a formidable woman. They start with Bayard Bank boss Lancelot Oxnard-Clarke, when the name Black XIII comes up they have no idea how dangerous an enemy they are up against.

Black 13 is non-stop action but you’ll need to engage your brain on this one too. By the end you’ll be craving the next instalment. Hamdy says that the object is to entertain and he certainly does that, in some style, but as I’ve said there is something more here, Hamdy isn’t “in a pulpit lecturing but asking questions makes for a deeper read.” I like that about Black 13, actions have consequences, people get hurt, have feelings, it’s more reflective of real life.

I don’t want to give anything away about the conspiracy at the heart of the novel but Hamdy uses real techniques extremists employ to draw people on to their cause. There’s a full interview with Adam Hamdy in the next issue of NB magazine, NB #103. Here’s a taster:

“[Brexit] I’ve seen quite a bit of wishing the older generation dead because they voted the wrong way. . . What we’ve done with the internet is allow extremists to find each other. If you find yourself saying things like that you have to take a look in the mirror. If you get to the point where you are wishing someone dead because they don’t agree with your political views you’ve been radicalised.”

Paul Burke 4/4

Black 13 by Adam Hamdy
Macmillan 9781529035131 hbk Jan 2020