A Damned Serious Business

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A Dammed Serious Business is the 39th novel from Gerald Seymour. The title refers to a comment attributed to Wellington after his victory at the battle of Waterloo. The Wellington connection is provided by a British Intelligence officer known to all as Boot due to his obsession with Wellington and Waterloo.

Topically the novel is principally concerned with the threat of cyber warfare, specifically that emanating from Russia.

Thanks to cooperation from Swedish intelligence Boot gets his hands on a Russian hacker who has unwisely transferred stolen money from Russia to his own secret account in a Swedish bank. If word of this was to get back to the hacker’s bosses then he would be in big trouble. The hacker reluctantly agrees to help Boot. He tells Boot that in a few days time there will be a meeting of hackers along with the FSB officers who facilitate their state-sponsored hacking of the west.

This proves too sweet a target for Boot to pass up. He sees a rare opportunity to land a blow against the hackers who are threatening the infrastructure of the west. He hatches a plan to get a laptop with a concealed bomb into the meeting.

The powers that be are all too happy to green-light Boot’s operation. It’s deniable after all and if successful it will give pause to the Russian operation.

To get the bomb across the border Boot enlists an occasionally useful mercenary called Merc. He’s currently fighting alongside Kurdish fighters on the frontlines against IS. Merc is a classic Seymour protagonist, doing things for his own reasons, perhaps proving himself, perhaps motivated by stories of his father. He displays great loyalty to his Kurdish charges and receives it back in return.

Backing up Merc will be three civilian Estonians that the intelligence service used before. Boot and the Estonian trio cross the border separately and then make their way to St Petersburg.

But as always there are complications. The hacker’s sister Kat, once a promising piano player, has fallen in with a rabble of anti-government protestors. This puts her under the attention of the FSB and her brother decides she needs to get out of Russia. When he finally meets Merc and is given the laptop he names his price. Merc must get his sister out of Russia.

Meanwhile an FSB major, one who refuses to be corrupted by payoffs, has his eye on Kat as a means to get access to the anti-government movement. By extension he’s aware of her brother’s activities and suspects something is afoot.

As with many of Seymour’s books this is a slow burner. He takes the time to allow us to get to know the characters and their motivations and gradually puts the pieces in play.

There are numerous highlights such as the hacker taking he bomb into the meeting, musing on what when wrong when the attempt on Hitler’s life failed in 1944. Also Merc’s wait in the car for the bomb to go off and the escape to the border.

The final chapters are as gripping as anything Seymour has written recently with Merc and his companions each attempting to cross the river to safe territory in a throwback to the Cold War.

As always, well worth a read.