The blurb on the back:
Crime with a political edge.
'This is, quite simply, one of the best novels about terrorism I've read ... a novel which refuses to leap to glib conclusions about ends and means. A smoothly written and provocative book' - Time Out
We start with quotes from two radically different perspectives on the nature of terrorism. Johann Most in 1885 calls for acts of armed propaganda, making clear that the acts themselves are less important than the publicity they can generate. Margaret Thatcher in 1981 agrees up to a point, and demonstrates that she (or at least her speech-writers) had a pretty clear view of how this thing works:
Thatcher's response to this was to develop the 'oxygen of publicity' argument that she deployed so ineffectually against the IRA later in the decade. But her recognition of the power of armed propaganda is more sophisticated than you're likely to hear from any of today's buffoons.
So, having set the agenda, we proceed to explore a terrorist cell and its operations. Specifically, of course, since this is a fairly orthodox novel, we see the operation too far, the kidnapping that breaks the cell.
And it's all really quite readable. The terrorists pose as mainstream members of society, but are in reality members of the generation that was radicalized by 1968 And All That and that was subsequently disillusioned by the shift from class to personal politics in the '70s. Unlike their real-world contemporaries, however, this lot have a sense of literal humour when it comes to taking action: an oil tanker breaks up, spilling its contents in the Channel, so the head of the petroleum company involved is kidnapped and a million pound compensation package demanded to assist the clean-up operation; meanwhile, the swimming pool at his country home is filled with oil. Difficult not to win public support when you do things like this. You soon get yourselves described as a 'Robin Hood terrorist group', the populist scourge of the transnational corporate cancer that's killing our world.
Their problem, then, (apart from the fact that they're called Exterminating Angel, which is a rubbish name) is that they'll be trivialised, seen as cuddly, friendly types rather than hard-core, hard-bitten revolutionaries. Hence the escalating campaign that hurtles the group to catastrophe. And disaster threatens from two directions: firstly, the secret services are onto our heroes, and secondly, one of the gang gets cold feet about involving 'innocent' women and children in the campaign. I'm not entirely convinced by this latter argument, but it's the kind of thing you have to accept as one of the conventions of the novel format
'One of the best books about terrorism,' claims Time Out, which isn't saying a great deal, but is probably true. At least the focus is on the activists themselves rather than the counter-terrorist forces. And the characterisation is convincing enough.
Peter Dunant is a composite pen-name for Peter Busby and Sarah Dunant. The latter went on to become a regular fixture on late-night BBC arts programming.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 3/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 2/5
Donald Seaman, The Committee