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Friday, November 02, 2012 11:00 AM
A Red Notice is the closest thing there is to an international arrest warrant. It can only be issued by Interpol, which reports that it handed out more than 7,600 such notices in 2011. (There are many different hues: Black Notices seek information on unidentified bodies, Yellow Notices are for help with missing persons, Green Notices to share warnings and criminal intelligence about globe-hopping felons.) The title of former SAS soldier Andy McNab’s 20th novel refers to the notice attached to Laszlo Antonov, who hails from South Ossetia, a disputed region between Russia and Georgia.
Laszlo is wanted for war crimes at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, a charge arising from the scene of destructive sadism we witness in the preface, as a militant band led by Laszlo razes a village in Georgia, killing and raping its inhabitants.
That was in 1996, in the midst of the longstanding conflict over South Ossetia, whose citizens carry Russian passports, speak Russian and resist Georgian governance.
As of 2011 and the start of the novel proper, Laszlo has made his way over to leafy Hampstead, London, to which locale a United Kingdom Special Forces team is now being dispatched to apprehend the fugitive and bring him to justice.
Among them is SAS Sergeant Tom Buckingham, known as Posh Lad to his regimental mates and as thoroughly unreliable to Delphine, his girlfriend of two years who, tired of taking a backseat to his mistress, the military, is hopping the next train bound for her native France.
Laszlo is too cunning to be snapped up so easily – as we will learn, his training was second-to-none – and with little further ado the action shifts to the Eurostar heading for Paris, a passage being taken by Laszlo, his brutish brother Sambor, and 40 other armed South Ossetians. Also aboard is Tom, AWOL from his base and in hot pursuit of the fleeing Delphine. Once he espies the elusive target, it’s all on.
Precisely what Laszlo wants is never fully explained by McNab; his continued liberty, certainly, and to mock and shame the British government, but there seems no larger goal. He most assuredly enjoys killing for its own sake, and Red Notice has its share of ugly deaths. There is mention of kilograms of gold and a Chinook helicopter, but it becomes clear these demands are diversionary rather than practical, and McNab abandons any attempt to link Laszlo to a noble motive in favour of his fight to the death with Tom, who has considerable skill as both pugilist and soldier.
All the action is conveyed with more grit than style in a story layered with double agents, intra-agency politics, lucrative oil pipelines and the dirtiest of politicians. There are various reasons, which shan’t be divulged here, why some within the British government find the prospect of Laszlo’s giving evidence undesirable, and the relentless flow of the narrative – there is no ebb to be found – sweeps up both the corrupt and the good without favour.
After 14 books in the Nick Stone series, McNab has apparently settled on a new hero, and Tom Buckingham steps up. Gifted and committed, he has the ability to conquer the most damnable villains while being just obtuse enough to get in his own way. He’s a less impervious Jack Reacher, and McNab has given him a worthy first outing.
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