It wasn't until I was well into SOFT TARGET that I realized it's apparently the second in the Dan Shepherd series. The third installment, COLD KILL, I'd read some months ago - see my review "How hardball do we play it" dated 6/29/06 - and the first, HARD LANDING, awaits on my unread shelf. I wish I'd read them in order, but who was to know? As I recall, even the Hardy Boys mysteries of my youth were sequentially numbered on the jacket.
Ex-SAS trooper Dan Shepherd is now a Detective Constable with London's Metropolitan Police seconded to a special hush-hush undercover unit tasked with missions otherwise impossible. In SOFT TARGET, the marks are a businessman and a crime lord's wife, each soliciting the murder of his partner and her husband respectively, where Dan plays killer-for-hire Tony Nelson, and a corrupt cop in the Met's elite armed response unit, which Dan joins as Stuart Marsden, that tackles armed pizza shop bandits, a gang of roving teenage thugs on the Tube, and, ultimately, Moslem suicide bombers. On his bedside table, Dan/Tony/Stu has a cell phone for each identity. Kathy Gift is the shrink assigned by Dan's boss to make sure that Shepherd, who recently lost his wife in a road accident, isn't suffering debilitating stress. Gee, why would one think that?
I gather that SOFT TARGET and HARD LANDING - the latter I have yet to read, you recall - serve as the character development bit in the evolution of author Stephen Leather's hero, whose ultimate mission in his fictional life is to foil Arab terrorists. In SOFT TARGET, there's fleeting reference to a mysterious Saudi, who travels the world on a British passport recruiting and arming suicide bombers, and who plays a major roll in COLD KILL.
I'm giving SOFT TARGET four stars not because it falls short as a thriller, but simply because it's not quite as riveting as COLD KILL, to which I gave five stars. (This reviewing gig is subjective and relative, after all.) I'm also somewhat impatient with the text space devoted to Dan's well-meaning but too often shoddy performance as a single Dad to his now motherless son, Liam. I gather Leather included this to show Dan as a regular bloke with a warm, fuzzy side to attract female readers, but the subplot never seems to go anywhere (and doesn't in COLD KILL, either). Less Liam and more Gift would've been more interesting.
Stephen tells me that there's to be a fourth Shepherd novel (in which, presumably, Dan's confrontation with Islamic nutters escalates). I'm actually looking forward to this book more than I am the first in the series because by that time the Shepherd character will have evolved to literary maturity.