Gladio by Steve Chambers (Zymurgy Publishing, £7.99)
Chambers is one of the region’s most prolific writers, initially writing for the stage but, in recent years, developing a relationship with BBC Radio 4, for whom he has co-written several series of Highlites, set in a women’s hairdressers.
His radio adaptations of great novels takes in Steinbeck, Defoe, Mary Shelley and Lawrence, which makes his own journey into novel writing understandable
Gladio is his first novel, and is unlike any of the above. It’s a political conspiracy thriller set in the ’80s and 20 years later. Not afraid to embrace the big issues, Chambers draws in the miners’ strike, Greenham Common, the sexual scandals of the Catholic church, the IRA and the Brighton bombings – oh, and Nazi gold.
Our hero, or possibly anti-hero, is a young TV journalist, John Bradley, who comes across the biggest story of his career. Gladio was, we are told, the code name for a CIA-sponsored organisation which, under the pretext of combating terrorism, got up to some dirty tricks.
The book moves in time but also takes us to the French Riviera and Northern Italy as Bradley pursues the truth.
He does this against a backdrop of personal problems – he drinks too much, his sister seems in imminent danger and, basically, he often wonders where his life is going.
Chambers is an analytical rather than an instinctive writer. He is attracted to strong issues and goes at them with admirable zeal and no little skill. There are weaknesses: the chase and pursuit sections at the start and end of the book are the least absorbing though no doubt would attract film-makers (films are another string to Chambers’ bow). There are also probably too many characters.
It’s when the author gets close to these characters that the book most absorbed me. I felt miffed when one was knocked off.
Gladio, written in short, sharp chapters, is brought out by Zymurgy, one of our region’s independent publishers.
Such is the state of the industry, the book may have remained unpublished without such support and we would have been unaware of one more aspect of Chambers’ writing skills.
by Peter Mortimer