A double dose of danger for elite Death Inc

SHADOW FORCE
BY MATT LYNN
HEADLINE, £12.99

IT doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that a book called Shadow Force – the first in a series that tracks a pack of mercenaries around the world – is not going to have much of a feminine touch. Well, journalist Matt Lynn has gone the full distance and got women out of the picture entirely. His cast of the characters at the beginning reads like a who’s who of an angry teenage boy’s warfare fantasy. There’s Steve, formerly of the SAS; Ollie, once of the Household Cavalry; David, of the Irish Guards; Nick from the Territorial Army, and so on. There’s a weapons glossary at the end, too. Well, fair enough. The kinds of men who will be reading this book won’t be sinking their teeth into it for its nuance – or for the now-popular genre of the female warrior (thank you, Lisbeth Salander). This is 100 per cent men doing, what Lynn seems to insist, is “man’s work”.

And perhaps it is. There’s an an undercover operation; a top secret unit, and possibly a death sentence for all concerned. Why? Well, Somali-based pirates are attacking ships off the coast of Africa, demanding millions in ransoms and pushing up the cost of shipping along this crucial route. The elite “fighting men” from Death Inc – the British government’s top-secret force – are called upon to destroy the pirates. Only once there, they realise they’re the target of a deadly conspiracy and their lives are the only thing that are expendable about the mission. Lynn is being tipped as the next Andy McNab and there’s no doubt he can spin a good, violent yarn with the right amount of real-life political darkness thrown in. Certainly a good read.

SUGAR ISLAND
BY SANJIDA O’CONNELL
JOHN MURRAY, £17.99

COMPLETELY absorbing Island opens with Emily Harris, a glamorous English actress, wrapping up a performance of Romeo and Juliet somewhere near Boston. Harvard boys clap and weep in the front row.

Having arrived in America in 1859, she meets and falls in love with a southern charmer, Charles Earl Brook. Shortly after they’re married, though, Emily discovers a terrible secret: the Brooks are slave owners and Emily must travel to the deep south where Charles keeps 700 slaves – many of whom she befriends. As the civil war breaks out, Emily’s world becomes more and more dangerous and she realises that her burgeoning friendship with the slaves could cost her everything. The opening image of Capulets and Montagues gains in searing meaning as the story progresses. A surprise delight that will please romantics with a conscience hugely.

THE LONDON TRAIN
BY TESSA HADLEY
CAPE £12.99

HADLEY is a master of family relationship drama – her new novel, though, steps outside of the generational and domestic sagas for which she is known. Instead, two strangers meet on a train, and end up having an affair. The novel starts with the affair already in the past and receding fast – like a town passed at speed by the very locomotive the dalliance began on.

Divided into two parts, we first hear the story of Paul, who – after meeting Cora, who he remembers as “that girl in Cardiff” – abandons his wife and two kids to support his pregnant 19 year old daughter Pia, moving into the dingy flat she shares with her Polish boyfriend and his sister. He is odd, unpredictable, selfish and likeable all at once.

The second and shorter part of the book (it’s more gripping, too) is a study of Cora. Far from feeling just like “the girl from Cardiff”, we learn the affair meant everything to her and rocked her to the core.

This is a mature, clever unravelling of a strangely-born relationship.