The Corporal’s Wife is the 30th thriller from Gerald Seymour and is due to be published in August 2013. I was fortunate enough to receive an advance reading copy from his publisher Hodder books and I am very pleased to say that after thirty books there is no sign of a drop in quality of Seymour’s writing. Indeed it is one of his strongest books in recent years, even rivalling the exceptional A Deniable Death (2011).
In the new novel Seymour returns to a choice of Iran as an adversary, a country that has featured significantly in a number of his previous books such as A Deniable Death, A Line in the Sand (1999) and Home Run (1989).
Mehrak, the corporal of the title, is a driver for Brigadier Reza Joyberi in the elite al-Qods Brigade. He has been sent by the brigadier to Dubai to take care of some unofficial banking. There he gets embroiled in an SIS honey trap operation and is convinced by the British agents that he needs to cooperate with them or the video footage secretly shot will be made public and his life in Iran will be over. They take him to a safe house in Austria and interrogation is begun by a team led by Petrok Kenning.
The suits high up in SIS, principally Taduez Fenton, are overjoyed at their prize. While he is only a lowly corporal his role as driver to the brigadier meant he had access to much top secret information and facilities. Fenton is concerned that the information Merak is providing should ensure Britain’s place at the “top table” with the cousins and friends – i.e. the CIA and the Mossad – and is quick to share some crumbs.
The corporal is initially cooperative but eventually put his foot down. If the British want his cooperation then they must produce his wife Farideh from inside Iran. By now the spymasters have a lot riding on this defector so they quickly throw together an operation to extract the wife from Tehran with some grudging assistance from the Americans and Israelis. In order for the operation to be deniable they do not use SIS personnel, instead picking some private security contractors and Zack Becket, a recent university graduate who speaks excellent Farsi. The book convincingly portrays the rapid gathering of the team, their insertion into Iran and their journey onward to Tehran and Farideh.
But it becomes apparent that the defector neglected to tell his new masters of the complicated nature of the relationship with his wife, it being an arranged marriage and one she was not happy with. The corporal has a fantasy that being reunited outside Iran will make everything all right. She however is quite happy to never see him again, although the suspicion of the Iranian authorities about her husband’s disappearance will make staying in Iran dangerous.
One of those suspicious of her is the brigadier, but ironically the defection of his driver also reflects badly on him and affects his formerly secure status, despite his loyalty to Iran.
The book features an extended cast of characters, some major and some minor, and it is some of the minor characters who will prove to have an unexpected importance to the story.
And as always the characters are richly drawn, no matter on which side they find themselves on, so the reader can be appalled at the actions of someone making life and death decisions in London on a whim or have a sneaking admiration for a smuggler.
The action moves between London, Austria and Iran, but also cuts away to the Turkey/Iran border near Mount Ararat (of Noah’s ark fame) where two agents are sent to observe the team’s planned escape from Iran. They turn out to have a pivotal role to play at the novel’s climax. And that climax is as suitable tense as you would expect.
This is another strong book from Seymour that delves into his usual themes of those in power in London, or elsewhere, manipulating the “little guy” to get what they want without worrying about the consequence, while the people lower down the food chain see the consequences of the decisions of their higher-ups.