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The Rendition by Albert Ashforth

There are times when I wonder whether there’s something wrong with me. As it is, I seem to fit into the male gender or, at least, I’ve got all the right equipment for that role. Yet when I read books like this, I start to wonder. Perhaps my testosterone level has fallen too much. According to the medical texts I read about the ageing process, the level of testosterone declines steadily once the human male passes the age of twenty-five. In libido terms, it’s surprising we’re on the scrapheap of life so young. Apparently, we become aware of the decline as we have fewer erections and just feel so goddamned tired all the time. So by my age, the testosterone is fast approaching zero and, in sexual terms, I’m close to death. This makes it particularly depressing to read a first-person narrative featuring a man who’s incapable of looking at a woman as an asexual colleague or friend. He’s a throwback to the Stone Age and irredeemably sexist, constantly assessing the quality of the breasts that swing into his line of sight and unable to keep his eyes off legs, particularly when shorter skirts are being worn. Even if he’s typical, and I’m by no means convinced he is, I find it faintly unsavoury to read about his male reaction to the women around him. He seems to me internally lascivious and, if the women are watching his eyes, overtly prurient.

In this reaction, I note a certain level of hypocrisy. I confess to watching the people around me. I suspect that’s an embedded part of human nature stemming from the need to scan the immediate environment for possible threats and, when the opportunity presented itself to a younger me, to find a mate. Except, in my culture, men and women generally relate to each other without layers of sexual fantasies getting in the way. This man’s obsessional interest in female body parts grows tiresome and slows down the development of the plot. Yes, we all know men like him are supposed to be supersoldiers, impervious to pain, yet blessed with the brains to infiltrate and sink an enemy battleship armed only with a screwdriver. But. . . I’m feeling exhausted by all this. I’ll go lie down in a darkened room after taking a cold shower.

Albert Ashworth showing a pleasing awareness of political niceties

Ignoring the character of our hero, The Rendition by Albert Ashforth (Oceanview Publishing, 2012) is a wonderful thriller. We start off with a rendition attempt going terribly wrong. Embarrassingly, the intended target takes our heroic US covert operative prisoner. He’s rescued but, after sustaining damage, wants out of future operations. Unfortunately, he’s not allowed to retire and, eight months later, he’s sent off to Germany to investigate a murder where an American is in the pokey accused of the crime. Not surprisingly, there are links back to the failed rendition and after the usual alarums and excursions, we get to a reasonably satisfactory outcome.

Allowing for the inevitable success of our hero, there’s a pleasing attempt to deal with the shades of grey that now affect the operation of US agents in Europe. To understand the problem, we need only look back to the abduction of Osama Moustafa Hassan from Milan in February 2003 and his subsequent treatment in Egypt. The Italian police identified twenty-three CIA and US Air Force personnel as involved, and prosecutors sought their extradition from the US to face charges of kidnapping. Interestingly, the Italian Government refused to act on its own court’s findings and never made the extradition request. This book is set in 2007 with the US now caught up in military action in Afghanistan, and deals with the events ultimately leading to the declaration of independence by Kosovo. Obviously, this was a time of considerable sensitivity if US agents were identified as acting on German soil. The local police are initially working on the basis that the US soldier they have in custody is guilty of the murder. The problem for our hero is to use his contacts to convince the investigating officers they have the wrong man.

I’m prepared to believe there would be a split of opinion about American involvement in local affairs. Older officers who had worked with US agents during the Cold War would retain respect, whereas younger officers might be more patriotic and resentful if the US tried to act unilaterally on their patch. However, this becomes somewhat redundant with the German Government very quick to recognise the new Kosovo. It could hardly publicly complain when our hero had been so actively working to a conclusion it approved. Although some passages in the concluding chapters are a little self-serving, Albert Ashforth successfully navigates the political complexities with some skill. I’m acknowledging the outcome as credible.

Putting this together, I’m prepared to accept my reaction to this hero may not be entirely fair. So I’m going to recommend The Rendition as one of the better thrillers dealing with the problems any government would have in maintaining its international reputation while fighting in Afghanistan and running covert operations on “friendly” soil.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

  1. September 6, 2012 at 4:40 am

    Sounds very interesting, and the subject matter–rendition–is a fraught one. Personally, I believe that in the wake of 9-11 the US government went too far; today the State Department assures us that we have ceased renditions to nations that treat prisoners inhumanely. Since I have never believed that the ends justify the means I certainly hope so, but as with all clandestine operations, how can we know?

    • September 6, 2012 at 10:15 am

      The problem with all spook books is that, unless you want to play the same game as Tomorrow’s Ghost by Anthony Price, the hero emerges relatively unscathed and ready for the next combat mission. So while forced to conform to this genre convention, The Rendition does avoid the most obvious clichés and, more importantly, does consider the political niceties from the covert operative’s perspective. I was impressed.

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