At Close Quarters

At Close Quarters was first published in hardback in 1987 and then in paperback around October 1988. I can remember the month because I had read Gerald Seymour’s nine existing paperbacks in the preceding year and I was avidly awaiting the paperback release of the tenth. It immediately became of one my favourites.

I recently read the book again for the first time in decades and it was as entertaining as I remembered from a quarter century before. I’ve been wanting to update this page so here are my new comments.

The book opens with the British amabasador to the Soviet Union being confronted by the Syrian ambassador. Sir Sylvester Armitage humiliates the other man over Syria’s protestations of innocence regarding the attempted bombing of an El Al jet that the Armitage’s daughter had been a passenger on. This slight sets in motion a plot by the Syrians to assassinate the British ambassador by using a Palestinian fighter as proxy.

Armirage is visiting Yalta with two other members of embassy staff, Jane Canning and her boyfriend Holt, who has just discovered that Canning is in reality a member of the British Intelligence service.

Abu Hamid is receiving training at a Soviet military base near Yalta in the Soviet Union and slips away to kill Armitage on the steps of his hotel in the city. Jane Canning is also killed but Holt survives and catches sight of the assassin who has a distinctive crows foot scar on his face.

Back in Britian the authorities think they know the killer’s identity and they hatch a plot to exact retribution. They will send Holt and an Israeli sniper called Noah Crane on foot into the Beqa’a valley in Lebanon to a Palestinian training camp. There Holt will identify the assassin for Crane to shoot

The book connects up with some other Seymour novels. For example the country house used by the intelligence services to house their defector in The Contract reappears. It will also appear as the location for Matthew Furniss’s debriefing in the next book Home Run.

The book is very much a novel of the second half of the 1980s but it is amazing how relevant the content and themes remain when reading it today, concerned as it is with state-sponsored terrorism and assassination. Reading it one is struck with how little has changed regarding the tensions between Israel and the other countries in the region.

Holt is yet another Seymour character who is appropriated by the government as a pawn in their poorly thought out schemes. This has been a theme of Seymour’s books going right back to Harry’s Game with Harry being sent into Belfast to find he IRA gunman who killed an MP. It was also used as recently as 2013’s The Corporals Wife with Zach Bennett being recruited into going to Iran to act as a translator.

At Close Quarters remains a favourite of mine and I would put it near the top of the list of Seymour books to either read or re-read.

American title: An Eye for an Eye

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