(Note: This review is of the hardcover edition.)
"Is there anywhere with no myths and no legends? Have you heard of such a place?" - from THE DEALER AND THE DEAD
In 1991 during the Croatian War of Independence, a small Croat village near Vukovar defends itself against Serb forces. The settlement's only chance for survival lies with a promised shipment of anti-tank weapons purchased with every liquid asset the inhabitants possess. But, a casual act of betrayal means the arms never arrive; the town is captured and brutalized by the invaders. Now, nineteen years later, an old grave is discovered and the survivors are provided a name on whom to exact vengeance. In this part of the world, hatreds are intense and never, ever, die.
In my opinion, Gerald Seymour is the very best thriller author writing today. His stories are sophisticated, complex and ingeniously constructed; the plots are drawn from contemporary world events and evolve in the grey regions of civilization's gritty and grotty margins. I've read all of his books save THE COLLABORATOR, which awaits my attention on a bookshelf much like a racked bottle of much treasured, vintage wine. THE DEALER AND THE DEAD may be the best of the author's offerings to date.
As usual, Seymour populates his story with a wealth of deftly drawn characters, none of which could even remotely be considered "super-heroes" in the popular sense. (There are no James Bonds or Jack Reachers. Not even a Spider Shepherd, Gabriel Allon or Nick Stone.) All are fairly ordinary - much like you or I - with personal lives that may incorporate a humdrum job or troubled personal relationships. But all of them, especially the civil servant types, persevere. And it's their perseverance that achieves a sort of nobility even though the victory against the adversity of the moment - indeed, it's the nature of the adversity that falls into the grey area - is ultimately pyrrhic in nature. (That's what I savor in this author's stories - there are rarely absolute winners or losers. It mimics real life.)
Here, we have the aging, bitter survivors of the Croatian community, a retired operative of the Secret Intelligence Service, a small-time London hit man, a Foreign and Commonwealth Office investigator probing arms trafficking, a physician specializing in survivor psychology, a forensic scientist who travels the world uncovering the grave sites linked with atrocities, a Planet Protection activist who crusades against international weapons sales, a detective sergeant of the Serious (or Specialist) Crime Directorate 7 of the London Metropolitan Police charged with thwarting assassins and protecting their identified targets, and an arms dealer with a winning smile. The paths of all will cross at the end of the Cornfield Road (Kukuruzni Put).
Gerald Seymour pens for grown-ups.