The hard core veteran of news gathering in this novel is William Carver, who knows his work inside out, keeps his nose close to the ground, nurtures and looks after his local contacts, increasingly disillusioned with his bosses, the ethics of news reporting, and what the listener/viewer does not get to hear/see. His office is Kabul and the tragedy that is Afghanistan. His nemesis is his employer, the BBC, who don't like his unconventional methods, their inability to manage him as they would like, and often their non-reporting of what he thinks is worth reporting. He reports to Rob Mariscal, also a hard man who has been on the broadcast scene for many a year, cynical, embittered, but still loyal to a story.
Carver is in Kabul, on the eve of Presidential elections - an unpredictable and nerve wracking time for everyone. A bomb goes off in a tailor's shop killing a number of people including a local official. When Carver finds out the story is not being reported as he thinks it should, his excellent nose smells that something is not quite right with the bombing, and with his translator Karim, sets about trying to get to the bottom of the situation. To try and rein him in, Mariscal sends a young, wet behind the ears producer, Patrick Reid, to Kabul to 'assist' Carver. It isn't long before Carver, Reid and Karim discover that there is considerably more going on than meets the eye, putting themselves in more and more danger as they work to expose the real reason for the bombing in the tailor shop.
This is a great thriller, given added spice and upping the danger level with edge of the seat narrative and vivid descriptions of a semi-destroyed Kabul, its buildings, markets, seediness, shady dealings and disrepair. The country itself is famous for its rugged and unforgiving geography, and how alienating it is to Westerners - journalists, mercenaries, military personnel and anyone else who finds themselves at the mercy of the land. Or the locals. It is also an alarming reminder to us, yet again, how the truth, the news is manipulated to suit an end, and who really does wield control of the news. It is certainly not the journalist. Quite frequently through the book, the chemical weapons story that resulted in US/British invasion of Iraq is referred to, which as we all know now was a complete lie. There is also a most interesting section on the opium trade, how that too has been taken and exploited, manipulated and controlled by invaders for their own ends, to the complete detriment of the Afghans themselves.
So, within the thriller narrative there is also a dark and despairing message. It is unlikely Afghanistan, bordered by Iran, Pakistan, China and ex Soviet countries, will ever be what it once was - a proud nation of beauty, productivity, harmony and strength. But it is certainly the perfect place to plot a story with the themes of good and evil abounding.