An IRA bomb kills Nguyen Ngoc Minh’s wife and daughter. Time after time the unassuming businessman asks the police how the case involving his family is progressing, and time after time he is shunted aside or ignored, all his questions remaining unanswered. Finally realizing that the establishment will offer no help, he decides to take on the killers himself.
Unbeknownst to the authorities, Nguyen is perfectly capable of doing so: He is an explosives expert trained by the North Vietnamese and is skilled in jungle warfare.
Nguyen finagles a meeting with the primary advisor to Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political arm, to demand the names of the people who killed his family. The advisor doesn’t know. Nguyen doesn’t accept the answer.
And the battle between one man and organized terrorists begins.
Now for the editing.
The dearth of good editors extends across the pond to Hodder and Stoughton of the UK, Leather’s publisher, whose redactors apparently are unaware of the utility of the comma, among many other niceties of punctuation and grammar. An exemplary gem is “it was a common sight in the newsroom to see [journalists] plugged into tape-recorders transcribing their tapes and breathing through their mouths.” Such a construction brought to mind little anthropomorphic machines with amazing abilities and a slight cold.
Subjunctives were butchered as well: “told him how important it was that the men were [be] found” and “It was more important that the match heads were [be] ignited in the vapour”
There were many, many comma splices and the odd extraneous comma: “that can be done, is being done, you must believe me”
The editors would benefit from an understanding of definitions: “and the two floors above it collapsed down [collapse
= to cave or fall in or give way, so “down” is right out]” and “It was an added bonus [bonus
= something in addition to what is expected].” The latter occurs more than once, so it wasn’t an oversight.
The editors also could use a lesson in the fine art of researching terms. In one instance we’re treated to “faded blue Levis” and in another, “tight Levi jeans,” both of which are incorrect. It’s Levi’s.
But at least the editors were consistently wrong.
Punctuation errors included “After two weeks [weeks’] basic training,” “while she’s trying I’ll have to stay here otherwise The Chinaman will just disappear [missing two commas and a semicolon in this jumbled mass of words],” “It must be important otherwise he’d have [again missing the semicolon and comma: “important; otherwise,…”]” “bird’s eye view [bird’s-eye]”
Misuse included “well over six-foot tall [six feet]” and “it would have had to have been a fairly large animal [should have been either “it would have had to be” or “it would have to have been,” but please, for the love of heaven, not both].” In regard to tracking animals, the editors missed “looking for the spore.” Spoor
is what the characters were hunting, unless they got hungry and decided to go after mushrooms, that is.
Kudos to the author for knowing that career
is a verb and for using it correctly: “[The dog] careered over to Hennessy and put her head in his lap.” It’s one of the few times I’ve seen it used instead of careen
in anything published after about 1960.
For sheer enjoyment, I would have given the book four stars, despite the gratuitous sex scenes; for editing, two. So I compromised. The editorial deficiencies won’t keep me from reading other Stephen Leather books, but I hope he finds better editors.