Date Published23 February 2017
Price£ 16.00

Shadow Kill

by Chris Ryan

SAS man John Porter is sent into war-torn Sierra Leone to find and bring back Ronald Soames, the Regiment’s former commanding officer, the man Porter believes was responsible for trashing his career.


John Porter is back. He’s still drinking too heavily and is not enjoying his forcible secondment to MI5 along with fellow SAS man John Bald. Their careers are on the rocks, despite having helped clear up the mess after a devastating attack on the Regiment. Porter blames his ex-CO, Ronald Soames for shafting him after a mission went wrong through no fault of his, so when he and Bald are sent to war-torn Sierra Leone tasked with finding Soames and bringing him back alive, Porter is none too pleased. Soames is now running a high-end operation supplying guns for hire and has become the right-hand man to the beleaguered president.

They end up besieged in a hotel in Freetown during fierce fighting as the rebels take on the government troops, massacring any civilians who get in the way. All routes out of the city are blocked by the rebels so Porter and Bald have no option other than to hole up and do their best to hang on to Soames. When the rebels rout the government troops, the situation becomes desperate, and the two SAS operatives have to team up with Bob Tully, formerly the Regiment’s biggest psycho, who now seems to be riding shotgun for Soames’ diamond mining outfit. But Porter and Bald are not the only people who are after Ronald Soames.

My predilection for what my co-editor calls willy-waving thrillers is well known and Chris Ryan always delivers the goods. He writes great action scenes and without a doubt, the attack on the Ambassador Hotel in Freetown is up there with the best. The ‘base under siege’ is one of my favourite tropes, from Assault on Precinct 13 and Zulu in films to such classics as the siege of Minas Tirith in the Lord of the Rings. Every siege needs a small band of desperate fighters, and here we have Porter and Bald, teaming up with Tully (which ticks off another favourite trope of antagonists being forced to work together), along with a handful of Belgians who claim to just about know one end of a rifle from the other but who are clearly a lot more competent than they should be.

The fighting is excruciatingly well-described, with enough detail for veracity, but no info dumps to slow up the action. This isn’t a Hollywood shoot-‘em-up where the heroes can fire 15 bullets out of a six-shot revolver. Here every shot must count as ammunition is in short supply, but rebel soldiers aren’t. Ryan doesn’t pull any punches. Porter and the defenders know that rather than a clean shot, it’s better to wound horribly, then pick off the rebels when they try to help their injured. Ryan also doesn’t shy away from the hideous reality of Africa’s child soldiers, taken from their families at an early age and brutalised into become sadistic killers.

Shadow Kill is at times searingly brutal, but never gratuitously so. Porter grapples with his drink problem, but is still committed to doing the job he signed up for, despite never quite knowing who he can trust. I’ve now seen most of the first two series of the TV adaptation of Strike Back, the book that first introduced Porter, and Richard Armitage was great in the role. Shadow Kill would translate equally well to the screen but, like the book, there are times when you would need a strong stomach.

Reviewed 04 March 2017 by Linda Wilson