I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of The Outsiders, due for publication in July 2012.
It is Gerald Seymour’s 29th novel and in it he revisits some of his usual themes, namely organised crime (see Killing Ground, The Untouchable, Rat Run and The Collaborator) and government-sanctioned extra-legal murder (see Harry’s Game, At Close Quarters and A Deniable Death).
A prologue sets the scene. A MI5 team in Budapest is investigating organised crime, specifically they are following up a lead about an illegal arms shipment. One of the British agents is discovered and brutally kicked to death before his arm is severed to allow the killers to steal his (empty) briefcase. The leader of the team, Winnie Monks, vows vengeance. Every year she and her now-disbanded “graveyard team” meet in an old graveyard behind MI5 headquarters. They are waiting for the crumb of evidence that will lead them to their target.
The killers are in fact a Russian crime boss known as the Major and his two minders, all former KGB. They have a free hand to perform illegal activities as they also carry out ‘services’ for the Russian government. The Major employs a hacker known disparagingly as the Gecko. One night he beats the hacker because he mistakenly assumes he’s stolen some property. It is this incident that makes the Gecko approach the British intelligence services with the information that the Major killed one of their men. He also provides the information that the Major is going to visit an exiled Russian gangster, called the ‘Tractor’, in Spain.
This is the crumb of information that Winnie Monks has been waiting for and she dispatches a team to the southern Spanish resort of Malaga, now hit by the hard times. Her team consists of watchers accompanied by Sparky, a former Para suffering with PTSD. Is he going as an unofficial minder or something more? It soon becomes apparent that the local authorities will prove uncooperative if it comes to extradition proceedings so Winnie makes sure she has a backup plan.
The team set up shop in a supposedly empty home belonging to a former RAF officer now retired to Spain. Unknown to them the property is occupied by house-sitters Jonno and Posie. There is immediate friction and Jonno finds himself the outsider.
As they wait for the Major to arrive the watchers find themselves powerless to intervene when they witness a couple of brutal murders in the Russian’s home performed by the Tractor and his two Serb henchmen. And they continue to wait for the Major to arrive.
Meanwhile there’s an unconnected sequence of events that starts with an intercepted shipment of drugs. This leads to the unlikely involvement of some septuagenarian British criminals whose own involvement will turn out to be crucial.
I particularly enjoyed the early sequences of the book describing the Gecko’s anger at his treatment and how his ego leads him to inform on the Major out of spite. The book is good at describing Malaga’s abandoned building sites and for-sale signs, a symptom of the global downturn. One also assumed that Seymour has done his homework regarding the ease with which organised crime thrives in southern Spain and how Russian gangsters dispatch with the individuals that slight them. Another nice detail is the story about how the Major and his two minders all received the same wound in Afghanistan.
As a final note I also quite like the title of the book, as each character is, in their own way, an outsider, whether it be Jonno and Posie in the middle of the surveillance operation, the watchers operating out of their jurisdiction, or even the Russians living far from home.