Anne Bonny #BookReview Once A Pilgrim by @jamesdeeganMC James Deegan 5* Genius #NewRelease #SAS #Action #Thriller @HQstories ‘John Carr is probably the closest to realism as you can get’

Once A Pilgrim by James Deegan
Review copy

John Carr has recently left the SAS, after a long and distinguished career, and is now working for a Russian oligarch in the murky world of private security.

But an incident from his past – in which three terrorists were brutally killed – suddenly comes back to haunt him.

Tracked by a hitman out for revenge, John Carr is forced to step over the line to defend himself and his family. It’s a cruel and violent world – and one he thought he’d left behind.

But some wars never end.

Patriot Games meets Taken: In Once A Pilgrim, John Carr shows all the Reacher-esque hallmarks of a cold-blooded antihero doing what needs to be done, whatever the consequences.

My Review:

Once A Pilgrim is the action-packed debut novel, of ex-SAS author James Deegan. I am not a huge follower of the action/thriller genre. But I really liked the sound of this novel. Add in the realism and fine details of military life and it is no wonder this is an Amazon bestseller.
He who dares, most definitely wins!

The novel opens with John ‘Mad John’ Carr’s CV. It details his military background, family history and current role. Carr is a decorated soldier, but with his gruff Scottish accent will tell you himself he isn’t in it for the medals. He has been wounded in battle and bears the scars of his past. He has sacrificed his marriage for his career, as many soldiers do. He has lost comrades and his own brother in action in Afghanistan.
Basically, John Carr makes one hell of a protagonist!

The novel opens during a tour of Iraq. With Sgt Major John Carr on his final op, before he signs the papers that’ll send him into civvie street. On the streets of Baghdad, his decision to leave the SAS weighs heavy on his conscience. However, he must not lose focus in the objective to retrieve/kill Sufyan Bin Ahmed aka Joker. The target is an Al Qaeda member and it falls to Carr’s team to take him out dead or alive.

‘Carr would have stepped through the gates of hell with Geordie by his side, and the feeling was mutual’

At Carr’s side is Squadron Quarter Master Sgt Geordie Skelton and new boy ‘Rooney’. They are aware Joker is planning to detonate a bomb in a civilian area of the central Shia district of Sadr city. Time is of the essence. Yet the spooks want the foot soldiers to take, their time and take Joker alive. The area has already been subject to religious cleansing and emotions and motives are fraught. When Carr’s team come under enemy fire from a separate insurgent attack nearby.

The opening scene is insanely tense. The team are left with one casualty of war, one wounded and a dead Joker. This all takes place in just six minutes. It full reminds the reader of the important work the SAS carry out and the risks they take with every breath of their operations.

The novel then jumps forward six months, with Carr now getting out, attending a comrade’s funeral and finalising his divorce. He has a job lined up for a private oil security firm in Southern Iraq. Carr wants to earn some decent money for a change. But as he leaves the base, he is approached by various high-ranking officials and he reflects upon the opportunities afforded to him in his military career.

‘The Army has given him discipline and focus, and turned him into a man’

There are various times within the narrative, Carr reflects upon the various people that make up the squadron. The individuals from all walks of life. From the poverty of Edinburgh to the boarding schools of Eton. The military caters to all.
It is as he is leaving that privileged Major General Guy De Vere (Director of special forces) reminds Carr of their time together in Clonards. Instantly we are transported back to Carr’s memory of that night. . .

Belfast, Northern Ireland 20yrs ago to be precise. A young ambitious Lance Cpl John Carr is with Cpl Mick ‘Scouse’ Parry and new boy De Vere as they patrol the open war zone that is the streets of Northern Ireland.

In this narrative we also see the points of view of Gerard Casey, his brother ‘sick Sean’ Casey and Ciaren O’Brien. They make up a small team of IRA with a target in mind. Their target William ‘Billy’ Jones, son of a Ulster volunteer and currently dating a Catholic girl named Colleen. Billy is no threat to them, their cause or NI in general. Billy wants out of NI and the troubles altogether. But due to who his father is, he is a named target. It is a night of violence and retribution which will echo well into the future and present day.

‘He’d dealt with bad men and worse jobs in every continent, but nowhere felt like Belfast’

London, present day: Whilst John Carr is sleeping off the effects of the night before. Senior officials are meeting to discuss the possible trial of British soldiers after the death of Gerard Casey. With new evidence from a witness come forward after 20yrs and a dying mans confessions. The officials discuss whether they should take this case further and bring criminal charges.

‘This sounds awfully like throwing two innocent men to the wolves’ – Kevin Murphy

The officials discuss the potential risks to the soldiers, media containment, press exposure and risks to soldier’s families of reprisals. Despite everything considered they decide to push ahead.
It is a decision that will have devastating consequences for John Carr.

‘He hadn’t wanted this fight – it had come looking for him but he was in it, and he had to win it’

The debate of putting British soldiers on trials for the actions in Northern Ireland, has been a played out in the media not so long ago. How senior government officials can sleep in the safety of their beds; as they sanction such cases is beyond my understanding. A comfy sleep that is afforded to them by the action of those who make untold sacrifices.

The realism and accuracy of military life is brilliant and second to none. I personally have no experience of the SAS. I married into the military way of life at 17yrs old and my husband was an airborne soldier. I recognised several terms such as ‘seven P’s’ and ‘ally’. But the fact that the soldiers were drinking brews and chatting bantz on page 4 of the novel, was a dead giveaway this is the real deal! The nicknames, the way in which the soldiers spoke to one another and the unspoken brotherhood are all clear indicators of a novel laced with intense accuracy.

This novel is gripping, with a clever plot that will be the envy of most crime writers. There are twists and tension along the way! John Carr is probably the closest to realism as you can get. Highly recommended 5* Genius

James Deegan – Twitter

Anne Bonny #BlogTour #GuestPost Brand New Friend by @k8vane Kate Vane #CrimeFiction #Political #Thriller #NewRelease You know he’s a liar but is he a killer?

Brand New Friend by Kate Vane
Brand New Friend by Kate Vane

Friend. Liar. Killer?

BBC foreign correspondent Paolo Bennett is exiled to a London desk – and the Breakfast sofa – when he gets a call from Mark, a friend from university in eighties Leeds. Paolo knew Mark as a dedicated animal rights activist but now a news blog has exposed him as an undercover police officer. Then Mark’s former police handler is murdered.

Paolo was never a committed campaigner. He was more interested in women, bands and dreaming of a life abroad. Now he wonders if Mark’s exposure and his handler’s murder might be linked to an unexplained death on campus back when they were friends.
What did he miss?

Paolo wants the truth – and the story. He chases up new leads and old friends. From benefit gigs and peace protests, to Whatsapp groups and mocktail bars, the world has changed, but Mark still seems the same.

Is Mark the spy who never went back – who liked his undercover life better than his own? Or is he lying now? Is Paolo’s friend a murderer?

Guest Post: Inspiration

The inspiration for Brand New Friend

Do you ever look up friends from years ago online to see what they’re doing now? Not to get in touch, not because you want a big reunion with a mobile disco or an ill-advised affair, just out of curiosity?

I must admit I’ve done it. It’s fascinating to see where people I knew as a student in eighties Leeds have ended up. I was on the fringes of animal rights and other political campaigning (I wouldn’t go so far as to call it activism, most of it was social and inactivity seemed a big part of our lives then.) A lot of my friends were on the dole after graduation, some living in squats.

Now, many of them are in responsible jobs or running creative businesses or writing for national media. Ironically, it could be the downtime that helped them get to where they wanted, because they had the space to think about what mattered to them.

I wanted to write a novel that captured the mood of that time, featuring a group of fictional characters who would be my contemporaries, and see where they are now. The hook for the story came when I read about the undercover officers who infiltrated animal rights groups in the eighties. I wondered how it would be if my characters had known someone like that.

The story is told from the point of view of Paolo, who is a BBC journalist. He is already grappling with a crisis in his career and dealing with significant change. He has barely thought about his student years until he learns that someone who was a key influence on him was actually an undercover officer. Knowing that his ‘friend’ Mark lied to them leads him to reassess not just his past but the present.

For me writing a novel is about asking a lot of questions. And answering some of them – crime fans tend to want to know who committed the murder! But I think the themes can be more open, leaving the reader to make up their own mind. How much are we shaped by our memories? What if everything we thought we knew about a significant time in our past was thrown into doubt? How does that change what we believe in now?

kate vane author image
Kate Vane