Once A Pilgrim by James Deegan
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.
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