Condition Black by Gerald Seymour

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I first read Condition Black back in 1991 when the book first came out in hardback. In fact I remember it was around the time of the first Gulf War and the book was displayed for sale with topical headlines referring to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

In fact Seymour included an introduction referring to the then current situation in the Middle East, although the book is not directly related to the invasion. Instead it is set prior to the 1990 invasion and focuses on Iraq’s attempts to recruit foreign scientists to work on its nuclear program. In the aftermath of the 2003 WMD debacle it’s easy to forget that Iraq once was developing nuclear weapons.

For some reason it was never a favourite Seymour book of mine and I’ve been meaning to go back and reappraise it. I’ve finally got around to it 20 years after the paperback first came out and I was interested to see if I liked the book any better.

Unusually for Seymour one of the main characters is an American. Bill Erlich is a young FBI agent based in Rome. He hears that a CIA agent friend of his has been shot and killed while meeting an Iraqi exile in Athens. Erlich’s investigations lead him to a witness who heard the English gunman being called Colt. This leads him to London where gets varying degrees of assistance from MI5 and MI6.

Colt actually stands for Colin Oliver Louis Tuck. He’s a young Englishman who, after getting into trouble because of an association with a militant animal rights group, went on the run and ended up in Iraq. An Iraqi colonel recognised his potential and recruited him for assassinations in europe.

Colt’s assignment back in England leads him to Frederick Bissett. He is a scientist at the Atomic Weapons Establishment who is struggling to make ends meet on his government salary and is finding his specialised career is making it difficult to find work elsewhere. When the Iraqis hear of his dissatisfaction they send Colt to recruit him.

One thing I would have liked more of was further development of the Iraq segments of the book which are mainly confined to the Iraqi atomic research centre where a Swedish scientist is actually a spy for Mossad and is trying to glean some information for his spymasters.

So, did I enjoy the book? Yes I did, very much in fact. I think my original issue was connected will Bill Erlich. Something about the character didn’t gel for me. I do remember when I first read the novel I also had a problem with something that happened toward the end of the book. Indeed the ‘event at the airport’ was one of my strongest recollections. Perhaps knowing what was going to happen meant I didn’t mind as much about it this time around.