16 November 2020

Guest Review: Operation Certain Death by Kim Hughes

Operation Certain Death by Kim Hughes book cover
* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Kim Hughes GC is a bomb disposal expert in the British Army and received the George Cross for his gallantry during the Afghanistan conflict. Operation Certain Death is his debut novel introducing his protagonist, Staff Sergeant Dominic Riley.

Neil Béchervaise thoroughly enjoyed Operation Certain Death and shares his 5 star review for Carpe Librum readers below.


He thought he left the war behind. But it's come home with him.

A bomb explodes in a newly designed shopping complex in the centre of Nottingham, ripping through the lives of everyone in its wake. Confirmed as a targeted, terrorist attack, special units are quickly brought in to lock down the area.

For bomb-disposal expert, Staff Sergeant Dominic Riley, Afghanistan never feels far away and that’s especially true on the morning of the bombing. Riley isn’t on active duty, but that doesn’t stop him fighting his way to the destruction – which is only just beginning.

What he doesn’t yet know is that this is just the start – that the bomb-maker and those who hired him have bigger plans in place, ones that are designed for maximum destruction. Plans that are personal. For Riley – and his family.

It’s a race against time to work out the link before more people are killed – because Riley is our only hope. And he just might be our last.

Neil's Review

I must admit that I have never really thought about the motives behind terrorism. The mere word seems to have blocked further logical thought. Maybe, then, I am both complicit in its ‘value’ and an uncounted victim of its effectiveness. Either way, Kim Hughes' latest novel has woken me to both the human, ideological and wider political motivations for the seemingly senseless violence that is all too easily media-linked to religious and extreme nationalistic violence.

As a former British bomb-disposal expert, Hughes engages us with the dangers of his career, the personal emotional challenges of living with PTSD and the increasingly broad motives of the terrorist’s world. From seeing his closest friend blown apart to living with that same friend’s voice in his head as an on-going guide and critic or differentiating the motives of international terrorists, Hughes' protagonist lives a tenuous existence within and beyond the margins of the law.

Investigating a bomb explosion in the centre of Nottingham, Staff Sergeant Dominic Riley discovers he is personally targeted. His ex-wife and daughter are endangered, his grandparents, formerly active but still engaged MI5 agents are involved and his former Afghan interpreter is motivation for one of the bombers.

Increasing the pressure, a second thread to the terrorist threat is revealed, Irish extremists are still actively resentful of their post-colonial ‘British masters’ and following an equally familiar thread, an active Russian spy ring is involved.

All of this seems vaguely familiar. The former Russian spies poisoned with radio-active isotopes come to mind. The American paranoia since 9/11 seems relevant. The New Zealand mosque shootings seem much closer than an election away and the ongoing British concerns with Ireland stir up the mud of the Covid epidemic.

Yes, it is familiar but, in Riley’s hands, it starts to seem very up-close and personal. We begin to envision the realities behind the radicalisation of young men and women across the ‘free world’ to the Taliban/Al Qaeda cause. We begin to comprehend the desire for revenge of families who have tragically lost their loved ones to endless ‘wars of terror’. Riley personalises and summarises the stuff of generations of colonial peacemakers, the stuff that Kipling was writing from the Raj, that Churchill was reporting from the Northwest Frontier, that Graham Greene used to bring Vietnam to life a generation before America and Australia found war essential.

The unique point of view presented in Operation Certain Death complicates simplistic media images of terrorist motives. Riley substantiates the roles of personal grief, family care, revenge and retribution within the arc of international political subversion in Britain, and indeed internationally at this very moment. In doing so, he presents a powerful insight into the times we live in, he offers us an amazing immediacy and, for this reader at least, he quietly suggests that maybe it is time to wake up to the cost of oversimplifying violence.

You can seize this book at Booktopia.

Neil's Rating:

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