David Gilman’s novels include The Last Horseman, Night Flight to Paris, Master of War and Viper’s Blood. His latest novel, The Englishman, was published by Head of Zeus on 9 July 2020.
Today I have an extract from the book.
French Foreign Legion Operating Base
Republic of Mali
The temperature was already nudging fifty degrees Celsius
and as well as their combat gear and weapons each man
carried in excess of thirty kilos of supplies and ammunition.
Their destination was the harsh mountainous terrain where
Salafist Tuaregs and Al Qaeda ethnic militias had surged
across the border from Algeria. These tribal fighting men
knew their ground and it was up to the elite 2e Régiment
étranger de parachutistes to dig them out and stop the
Islamic militants’ advance.
United Nations Resolution 2085 had backed France’s
military intervention in the French protectorate of the West
African country of Mali, a landlocked area the size of Texas.
The world had applauded when the French and Chadian
army liberated Timbuktu, but more brutal fighting was
soon to take place hundreds of miles away in the desolate
Ametettaï valley, in the heart of the mountainous massif
of Adrar des Ifoghas in northern Mali, on the border with
Algeria. It was an area controlled by criminals, terrorists
and warlords, men who trafficked arms and drugs with
brutal efficiency to fund anti-western organizations. The
combined ground and air operation to clear the villages
in the valley and the nearby caves already promised
to be a tough fight. French Special Operations Forces
had flown several hundred kilometres from their base in
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and seized Kidal prior to the
assault on the mountains. The President of France and his
politicians wanted this fight, the generals wanted it and
the boots on the ground were happy to oblige. France’s
honour was at stake.
Caporal-chef Serge Sokol ushered his sniper platoon
into the Puma helicopter’s oven-hot interior from where
he and the other eleven men would fast rope down once
they reached their landing zone. A month before, when
they had parachuted into Timbuktu and secured it from
the terrorists, they had had the upper hand, but the
rough terrain of boulder-strewn ground here favoured
the defenders. Limited access towards the caves funnelled
troops into narrow choke points. Easy targets for ambush.
The snipers were going in by helicopter and would then
slog across the broken ground and establish their own fire
positions. Their long-range rifles would give the attacking
legionnaires a better chance of advancing.
‘Bird!’ a voice hailed Sokol.
The Russian’s face, lined from twenty years’ service in
every eye-squinting theatre of war that Africa could throw
at the Legion, creased further into a grin. In the Slovak
language, Sokol was a bird of prey – his new identity
given to him by the recruiting captain at the barracks in
Marseilles on the day he had joined. The immaculately
dressed Foreign Legion officer told the gangly, unkempt
and malnourished youth that it suited his hawk-nosed face.
And that if he survived the weeks of training and made it
through to the Legion’s parachute regiment the captain
would pay for a falcon tattoo out of his own pocket. It was
the first sign of comradeship the runaway youth had ever
known and it spurred him on. And now there were so many
falcon tattoos across his muscled torso his skin looked like
a damned aviary.
Sokol’s close friend, Dan Raglan from the Legion’s
parachute commando group, jogged towards him. Sokol
cupped a hand to his ear against the Puma’s roar as Dan
shouted: ‘The target’s moved. He’s in another cave.’
The caves were refuge to Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, one of
the world’s most wanted terrorists, commander of Al Qaeda
in Mali and the 2nd Foreign Legion Parachute Regiment’s
target. Their task: to capture Abou Zeid alive and retrieve
terrorist intel hidden in the caves.
Sokol grimaced. Last-minute changes could cost lives.
The briefing had been precise. As the Legion’s paras fought
forward the regiment’s commando unit would abseil down
from the clifftops and strike into the caves that held the
terrorists and their leader. ‘Moved where?’
The commando shoved a folded map into the Russian’s
hand and traced a line across the contours on the map. ‘Here.
Cave Thirteen.’ He grinned. ‘You think that’s unlucky?’
‘Only to idiots like you who expose their arses sliding
down a cliff face on a rope. Who’s made the change?’
The younger man turned to face the cluster of officers
standing in the background with two civilians. One civilian
wore an eye patch that barely concealed the welt of a scar.
About the Book
Penal Colony No. 74, AKA White Eagle, lies some 600 kilometres north of Yekaterinburg in Russia’s Sverdlovskaya Oblast. Imprisoning the country’s most brutal criminals, it is a winter-ravaged hellhole of death and retribution.
And that’s exactly why the Englishman is there.
Six years ago, Raglan was a soldier in the French Foreign Legion engaged in a hard-fought war on the desert border of Mali and Algeria. Amid black ops teams and competing intelligence agencies, his strike squad was compromised and Raglan himself severely injured.
His war was over, but the deadly aftermath of that day has echoed around the world ever since: the assassination of four Moscow CID officers; kidnap and murder on the suburban streets of West London; the fatal compromise of a long-running MI6 operation.
Raglan can’t avoid the shockwaves. This is personal. It is up to him to finish it – and it ends in Russia’s most notorious penal colony.
But how do you break into a high security prison in the middle of nowhere?
More importantly, how do you get out?
About the Author
David Gilman enjoyed many careers – including firefighter, paratrooper and photographer – before turning to writing full time. He is an award-winning author and screenwriter.