Today I am taking part in the blog tour and sharing an extract for David Gilman’s latest thriller The Englishman. This was released on the 9th of July published by Head of Zeus.
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?
The road was long and straight, and the dark forest pressed on to the verge on both sides. Heaped snow, ploughed from the previous winter, was still frozen and had become an even higher bank from the fresh snowfall. He lengthened his stride and ran faster towards the rising sun.
He dared not stop.
The sun had reached the top of the trees either side of the chill, sunless gulley of a road. His laboured breathing muted the sound of the first vehicle. Instinct made him turn. Another vehicle was travelling behind that, its headlights weaving. There were probably twenty men in pursuit.
He leapt over the snow ledge on the side of the road and ducked beneath the overhanging branches. A slender track channelled between the accumulated snow and ice on the side of the road and where the tree trunks barred his way into the forest. He heard the engines change pitch. They were slowing. He ran; branches caught his face and he raised an arm. A rattle of gunfire cut the air above his head.
He cursed his own stupidity. By brushing the branches away from his face he had disturbed the snow lying on them and the fine powder left low on the tree had been seen. He kept running, ducking lower, avoiding the branches. The thwack of bullets hit the trees where he had been moments before. They were shooting wildly. Ripping through the air. A storm of treebark and snow.
His breath came hard. The cold air raw in his lungs. And then he ran out of track. He plunged into the low branches. Felt them them whip his face. Searing pain scorched his thigh. He stumbled as another bullet tore into his side. Ignoring the pain he ran on. He was leaking blood. Leaving a trail. The distant sound of dogs echoing through the forest. His foot caught a root, tumbling him into deep snow. He slammed into a tree, the wind knocked out of him. He needed a moment to draw breath. He shook clear the pain and the sweat from his eyes. He could hear them now. Voices calling to each other. Fearful. Of him. He dared to close his eyes for a moment. More gunfire.
And he remembered what had brought him here.
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.
The Englishman Blog Tour
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Let’s Get to Know David
David Gilman is an award-winning author and screenwriter. David enjoyed many careers – including firefighter, paratrooper and photographer – before turning to writing full time in 1986. He has written many radio and television scripts including several years of A Touch of Frost. In 2007 his Danger Zone trilogy for YA was sold in 15 countries.
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