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The Expendability Doctrine

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by Patrick Mackeown

Sometimes you get the idea, when reading a book, that an editor might have been a good idea. Someone to tell the author to tighten things up a bit, to take out some of the explanation, to rely on the reader more. Generally, to stop rambling and get on with it. Sometimes, but not this time. This time I felt the opposite to be true. Somebody was needed to tell Mr Mackeown to slow down, take his time, give the reader more leisure to follow the action or he might just get a bit lost.

In the blurb on the back of this document is the statement: The Expendability Doctrine races on a roller-coaster thrill ride across the globe. This is perfectly accurate. The only thing is that on a roller-coaster ride the only thing you need to understand is that you’re on a roller-coaster ride. When you’re reading a novel there are a lot of other things you need to understand such as motivation, character, plot, etc. Mainly, just what the hell is going on? That’s my problem with this book. I kept getting lost.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that this book is at all incoherent. It isn’t. Mr Mackeown can write and has a story to tell. I just don’t think that 180 pages are enough to tell this particular story.

We are in the midst of an oil crisis. Britain is at a standstill. No vehicles are in use and the police (parts of this novel are a police procedural) have to do all their investigating on foot. A British industrialist is killed. His wife disappears and is therefore the chief suspect. This is correct as she had hired a hitman to kill her abusive husband. And yet it’s also not correct because…

We follow the investigation by Detective Inspector Simon Hawthorne, his sergeant, Dalgliesh and his Superintendent, Tony Jarvis. Jarvis is fat and obstructive (Morse, anyone?) and Hawthorne and Jarvis get into an ethical argument at one point that seemed to make little sense and certainly contributed little to the book.

We also follow the above-mentioned wife, Hilary Connors, as she makes her escape to Tripoli, meets Major Carter, witnesses a killing and ends up in a notorious prison where bad things happen and a rather strange escape occurs. It was during the escape that I first began to get somewhat befuddled.

We are in the world of large-scale corruption and death. This is the West’s need and greed for oil leading to killings of native populations, mercenaries, fixers and contacts in high places. I actually felt that there was a definite importance to what the author had to say, but I also felt that he was losing control of his plot, either by having too many strands or, and I think this is the real truth, by not giving any of them the time they deserved.

It is rare for me to think that a novel would have been better if it had been longer, but this is what I felt with this one. Take the time and space, Mr Mackeown, let your work breathe.


Buy this book from Amazon


ISBN 978 0 9554328 0 4
BookScape, 2007
184pp, paperback
Retail price 7.99

Open Book

Review by Chris Williams