An iconoclastic British Army officer tries to make sense of—and survive in—the insanity of the Iraq war.
Himself a former British soldier, Conway (Damaged, 1998) writes with brutal immediacy, his mordant irony resonating uncomfortably even as it entertains. Sardonic chapter titles add even more edge to the dark first-person narrative of Jonah Said, sent in 2003 as a UN military observer to a particularly ravaged area of Iraq known as the Zone. A hardened vet who lost an eye in Bosnia, Jonah gets a lesson in Mideast danger almost immediately. Stopping off at a bar where his driver, a Norwegian named Odd Nordlund, has some kind of shady business, Jonah soon finds Odd in the bathroom with a slashed throat—and himself accused of murder by their Russian drinking companions. Snippets of flashback explain why Jonah has taken this undesirable assignment; he’s on the lam from possible prosecution for wreaking vicious revenge on the man his wife left him for. A fellow UN officer named Titus Rhodes-Spicer (aka Spicy) rescues Jonah from the Russians and becomes his informal sidekick. Raffish and tossing off endless one-liners, Spicy gives a crash course in the various nationalities on site, from backstabbing Chileans to “ill-informed moron” Americans. Corruption and confusion reign. Jonah meets the beautiful Miranda, who becomes his lover and intermittent savior. He takes a treacherous tour of hospitals and remote outposts, unearthing various theories about who killed Odd. He hoards a letter from mother, reading it intermittently, and stumbles into a supposed plot to assassinate Saddam Hussein’s son Uday, who makes a brief appearance.
Grim, kinetic thriller set against an unconventional and inspired backdrop. American readers may be surprised by this portrait of the war as a multinational tapestry of violent dysfunction, and unsettled by the disdain for U.S. forces.