Operation Certain Death

Kim Hughes (Simon & Schuster)

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Staff Sergeant Dominic Riley is an ATO – Ammunition Technical Officer – he’s the guy in the heavy suit that has to disarm the bomb when one is found. It’s a dangerous job, to say the least. But now he’s back home, far away from the war in Afghanistan…or so he thinks. Sergeant Dominic Riley is a compulsory therapy session when a bomb is detonated in Nottingham city centre. Even though he isn’t on duty, he rushes to the scene.

MI5 operative Kate Muraski is poking her nose where she shouldn’t. Eager for a promotion, she’s determined to prove herself. When digging up old history she comes across something that could be relevant to the bombing… and Riley’s at the centre of it.

As new details come to light and more bombs are uncovered, it’s clear that this is personal. Riley and Muraski must piece together long-buried secrets to find the perpetrators before the next bomb goes off…

I should probably say that I usually read detective thrillers over spy/army ones, but this was really good. First of all, the descriptions were visceral – it’s clear that the author has first-hand knowledge. Indeed, Staff Sergeant Kim Hughes GC is the most highly decorated bomb disposal officer in the British Army and was awarded the George Cross in 2009. The way that Hughes described the victims of the Nottingham bombing really made the scene come to life in a way I hadn’t expected. It was vivid without being gratuitously graphic. Hughes’ experience can also be seen in Riley the description of Riley’s mindset – when faced with a device purpose-built for mass murder, a single-minded focus riding a wave of adrenaline can be the different between life and death.

At the heart of every great thriller is the uncovering of secrets, investigation of clues and peaks and troughs in tension. Hughes does this really well and as the book goes on, the stakes get higher as the characters rush to prevent a catastrophe. With an ATO at the heart of the story, there was a lot of specialist knowledge which needed to be communicated to the reader. But in Riley’s voice it didn’t sound boring and managed to not detract from the narrative or disrupt the flow of events.

I really liked the therapy session featured at the beginning in the book – in the law enforcement/military narratives that we see in film, tv and books, characters often have PTSD symptoms but reject therapy as a waste of time and refuse to really engage. Eventually, Riley opens up and talks about his experience, and I’d like to think it took a weight off his shoulders. If PTSD stigma is to be challenged, people need to know that it’s not ‘weakness’ to discuss your issues or experiences in therapy.

One thing you often find in law enforcement narratives is the discussion of the binary good vs bad narrative, and I liked how the waters were rather murky here. Reading it, I didn’t feel like the author was pushing a moral perspective either way, all of the characters had their own motivations for their actions. Also, Hughes highlights how military conflict is often political, with the meddling of foreign powers often causing more problems than it solves.

In all, I really enjoyed the book and I look forward to the next instalments in the series!

A special thank you to the team at Simon and Schuster UK for giving me this digital ARC for review through NetGalley.

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