Shemlan: A Deadly Tragedy
by Alexander McNabb
Gerald Lynch has been at it a long time. Getting into places no sane person would go to, handling issues that nobody should know about, but handling them "quietly" has never seemed to work for Lynch. The proverbial bull in the china shop, he's always creating mayhem wherever he goes. Problem is, mayhem works. In spite of his boss' constant irritation and outright outrage at his indiscretions (leaving a body or two in his wake, in sometimes far-more-visible ways than anyone would like), he's really, really, good at getting results, so when budget cuts come, or when he doesn't do quite such a good job at the periodic physical training tests, he stays. This time, though, he's pretty much chasing ghosts.
The newfangled techie software that saunters its way through barrages of old data has come up with connections that were missed in the past. Data mining says there was something terribly wrong in Beirut, and the culprit is still out there, passing on who knows how much more information, but many of the trails are cold. Since he spent a lot of time in Beirut, Lynch is the logical choice, but the tendrils of information are ghostly as well after all this time.
There is someone else out there chasing ghosts. Jason Hartmoor is a former diplomat, a meek and quiet man, pushed out of his position by a scandal not of his making. His home in England is visited by someone from the Foreign and Commonwealth office, but Hartmoor has already gone. Hartmoor is now in Beirut, struggling with illness and longing to make contact with the love he had to abandon in the late 70s when the civil war caused everything to screech to a halt. He wants to say his goodbyes.
The Arab school in Shemlan was where they met, where they fell in love, and, when things got tough, where he abandoned her to the dangers of war. Hartmoor is resigned to his fate, but hopes he can find Mai, after all these years. He has little time left, his only deadline, whether death will claim him before he finds her, but as he wanders through the places he spent his youth, and makes contact with former classmates, he's certainly not alone. Fighting pain and exhaustion, Hartmoor unwittingly trails behind him a bunch of old secrets, a certain Gerald Lynch, and a number of shadowy people who follow him wherever he goes. But what do they want with him? He's just there to close up the loose ends of his life before illness takes him out.
Most books in this genre contain a lot of the same elements. Lots of action, folks with knife-edge instincts that keep them from being killed when everything is against them, truly evil bad guys, and the uncertainty of not knowing for sure who's on the side of truth and justice. All those elements are in play, but McNabb has, however, brought an entirely new element into the genre. His characters are not just the hot babes, the cruel hit men, the quick-witted agents, and the conniving money seekers, though they are certainly there. But for the main characters, there are genuine relationships, a strong sense of their inner characters, even as they struggle to reconcile reality with remembrance and loss. Even the indomitable Gerald Lynch finds himself staring out the window, lost in recollection.
How the truth comes to light and the realities behind the veil, have the sense of a haunting. Finding the truth isn't always welcome, even when it's necessary, and the ghosts of Shemlan will stay with you long after the last page is read.