Book Review: Operation Certain Death by Damien Lewis (Three Stars)


Book Review: Operation Certain Death: The Inside Story of One of the Greatest SAS Battles by Damien Lewis

(Three Stars)

‘This is the point in the operation where dog sees rabbit, and dog is most definitely going to go for it. It is at this moment that Operation Certain Death has become Judgement Day for the West Side Boys.’

Well-told of a successful SAS rescue mission in Sierra Leone. Multiple points of view and roughly straight timeline increases drama. American readers are reminded that other parts of the world are in crisis and other major powers are doing something about it. Other nations don’t come off so well.

‘Be strong. A people that is not ready to die for its liberties loses them … Believe passionately in the ideas and in the way of life for which one is fighting. Liberty deserves to be served with more passion than tyranny.’ André Maurois, Memoirs

Each chapter opens with an appropriate epigram.

‘You haven’t seen these people in action. I have. Believe me, if British forces have to come in and rescue us, this place is finished. There won’t be a building left standing.’ ‘Then that, Major, will be a very good thing.’

Not sure whether to classify this as historical fiction or history. Lewis claims much research and reality behind the story at the same time he admits to fictionalizing much of it.

‘The West Side Boys’ leader had managed to develop such a close and mutually beneficial relationship with one of the Jordanians. Arms-for-diamonds deals. The Jordanian made the cash, the West Side Boys could wreak havoc and mayhem. And now they’d just turned up in the camp with some severed Kamajorheads, courtesy of the Jordanian bullets.’

Tries too hard to render the dialects. Diminishes readability without improving the atmosphere. Four different spellings for the f-word. We know many soldiers cannot communication without liberal profanity but it’s too much.

Operation Barras was a gamble that paid off in the end. It is not a gamble that many of the men would ever want to repeat.’