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Friday, August 23, 2013

Chris Ryan's "Killing for the Company"

Until not so many years ago, I naively took the view that fiction was made up and non-fiction was true. I now realize that much fiction is dangerous truth smuggled past the guards.

Chris Ryan's 2011 novel shows the usual expertise gained from his time in the SAS, and his characters shoot and stab (and are killed) with believable detail. I read this type of thing as a vicarious thrill, but perhaps also to inure myself somewhat to the horror of what humans do to each other. It's a sort of cognitive dissonance: imagining the awfulness so that I can be reassured that it won't happen to me and mine in reality.

But Ryan's books, blood-soaked though they are, don't seem to inhabit a completely bleak moral universe. This may be to do with the heart of the man: when Ryan called his wife after his escape from Iraq, almost the first thing he said was "I've done a terrible thing," referring to his having had to kill two people during his solitary flight through the desert. The profession of arms is a tough one, but soldiers can still have a conscience, even if they look at religion sideways. I get the feeling that Andy McNab manages to keep the side doors of his mind shut a little tighter, though his references to the incidence of suicide among some of his fellows, and to the need for the psychological counselling that is more easily available to American Special Forces, suggests that many who do what they have to do find difficulty in preventing emotional leakage from those shut rooms.

It's said that psychopaths do understand how other people think and feel; what makes them so dangerous is that they don't care. There are two such in this book. One is a female Mossad agent who kills man, woman and child without the slightest compunction. The other is a British Prime Minister called Stratton, who holds secret meetings with an American arms manufacturer and undertakes to get his country involved in the Iraq conflict. Years later, we see him as a peace envoy to the Middle East, with more hidden plans and connexions. Throughout the book, he shows a quick perception of others and a superficially charming manner, but has a mood that turns on a sixpence. And he's a first-class God-botherer with a messianic ego and millenarian enthusiasm.

Events come to a head in 2013, in a Middle East becoming unstable and with Western powers preparing for imminent direct military involvement.

I can't say whether Stratton is simply a great fictional villain, playing to the prejudices of many of the readership, or whether the writer has a genuine dislike for those who give the orders but never wield the knife or gun themselves. I felt that the work was climbing over the border fence of fiction.

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Paddington said...

Perhaps I'm more of a sociopath than I thought. Under the conditions of defense of self or family, I believe I would kill without remorse.

Sackerson said...

As you know, that would be for perfectly good reasons, not for self-aggrandisement.

Paddington said...

I meant that I believe I could do it without remorse. What must be done should not be regetted.