My new favourite review for 65 Below

3.0 out of 5 stars

None, 14 Feb 2012
Mr. Md Jones "Martin Jones" (Aberystwyth, UK)

This review is from:

65 Below (Kindle Edition)

Despite its implausible scenarios, unbelieveable and usually unlikeable
characters, and incessant xenophobic flag-waving post 9/11 patriotism,
it's still, oddly, a page-turner.


New Book - Sneak Peek - Cold Summer - Due out late summer 2012

Southwestern Punjab,Pakistan
November 4th

“Ali aga. How long will the meeting be today?” Kharzai fidgeted
as he spoke, looking out the window at the dusty landscape that
passed them by.

Ali turned in the front passenger seat and glared at Kharzai over the
top edge of his mirrored sun glasses.

“Al Gul, your wedding plans will be as scheduled,” Ali used the
cover name Kharzai was known by among the Taliban and allied
organizations. “The old man made that very clear.”

“How did you know that’s what I was thinking?” Kharzai replied.

“Because that girl is the only thing you have been talking about
for a week.”

“I’ve talked about more than Leila this week.”

“No,” Ali shook his head, “no you have not.”

“I did too,” Kharzai looked indignant, “I told you we needed to
resupply the ammo cache at Bahawalpur.”

“That was business. I mean other than business you have not brought
up any other subject but this girl you want so bad. If you were so
horny, you should have just gotten a prostitute. Hell, get a young
boy to take around as your pupil…at least you won’t have to worry
about making more kids that way.”

“You Arabs are sick."

"Arabs? You Persians have no room to speak. What's his name...”
Ali tapped his temple to draw up the memory, “Iraj Mirza, the poet,
diddling boys was all he wrote about.”

“Apparently I do not read the same poets as you,” Kharzai said.
"That stuff never happened in my family. Our fathers made us
iron chastity belts with razor blades around our bung holes."


"Yeah they had a hole for us to let waste out of but blades
around the rim of the hole protected us from any wrong way traffic.
It was hell on the furniture but any man who thought he could enter
me or my cousin's back door would've enjoyed a second circumcision."

Ali chuckled, "You are a strange man Seirim Al Gul, very strange

"Alright, time to get serious," barked the driver.
Kharzai's face reflected back at him in the rear view mirror. The
driver's eyes were shielded by silvered aviator sunglasses as well.
"We are here."

The column of vehicles pulled into a cluster of single story mud
brick houses and animal pens that played at being a village. Children
scuttled between the houses in some sort of game and a herd of goats
looked up at the vehicles with the blank stare of bestial curiosity.
Before the vehicles came to a complete stop a cluster of laughing
boys surrounded them chattering all at once like a gang of monkeys,
wide expressions of innocent joy on their faces, ignorant of the cold
violence embodied in these men to whom they clamored for attention.
Ali and the others pushed the boys out of the way, projecting a cruel
terrorist persona. Some of the boys cowered and shrunk back, others
ignored the mean men and homed in directly on Kharzai.

In spite of his reputation as a cold blooded killer, Seirim Al Gul
literally means Hairy Demon, Kharzai loved and was loved by children.
He trotted into the mob of boys and with the toe of his shoe snatched
a soccer ball from one of them starting an instant game of keep away.
Boys chased him, tripping over each other, laughing at Kharzai's
silly faces as they tried in vain to get the ball back.

Leila came out of a nearby house and stood at the edge of the play
area. The loose end of a clean white dupatta draped around her
shoulders and head fluttered in the warm breeze. The sunlight set her
unblemished face aglow like a goddess. Like a manga artist's dream of
beauty large almond eyes peered at him from beneath the fringe of her
dupatta, pools of deep brown that drew him in. Her bright orange
loose fitting shalwar kameez made him think of sunrise and fresh
fruit. The baggy Pakistani clothing was not nearly as formless as the
infamous burka, and while being modest by western standards allowed
her vivid femininity to remain apparent as she moved. Around her neck
hung a thin gold chain with a heart shaped pendant Kharzai had made
from a twisted braid of gold wire. His expression opened with a huge
smile and he winked at her flashing bright white teeth through his
thick black beard. She giggled in response.

“Al Gul,” one of the men from the convoy called from the door of
a house.

He kicked the ball over the heads of the boys sending them on a chase
as it bounced into a goat pen. A few of them followed behind Kharzai
like a gaggle of goslings as he jogged toward the house. The man at
the door snarled at the boys stopping them short in fear.

"Go play," Kharzai said with a swoosh of his hand as he
entered the house. They ran off. He glanced over to Leila as she
walked into one of the other houses. A jolt of nerves wriggled
through his belly as the door closed behind him. He mused how funny
it was that al Gwahari's daughter could make him feel so giddy,
especially in light of the fact that he was going to kill the man
within the week. Then a different thought hit him: He was going to
kill his fiancées father.

What if she doesn't like me after?

But then he remembered that although she could never say it aloud to
anyone but Kharzai, whom she like the others only knew as Seirim Al
Gul, she hated her father and everything he stood for. He was a
companion of men like Osama bin Ladin and Iman al Zawahiri, mass
murderers who controlled the population with terror. On the day he
proposed to her Leila confided in Kharzai that she hated the jihad.
She hated the war and the fighting and the killing and wanted to run
away from everything. She wanted to move to Australia or the United
States and make a new life where she could be free from the fear that
always surrounded her home. When he asked how she could trust him
with such words when he was a fighter like her father's men, she told
him that he was different. He was not just another crazy jihadist.
Something set him apart, but she could not put her finger on it. They
would marry, then disappear and live happily ever after.

Kharzai entered the house and was lead to the room where al Gwahari
sat on a carpet, his war chiefs in a circle around a small table.

"Al Gul," his voice came in a gravelly rumble. "My son
in law, please sit. Join us for tea."

Kharzai sat on the floor across from the older man. Al Gwahari did
not look the part of a terrorist warlord. He lacked the evil sneer of
bin Ladin or the dull eyed mask of al Zawahiri. His grandfatherly
appearance had worked in his favor to acquire alliances, but those
who crossed him soon learned that it was a ruse. The kind looking old
man had no qualms in ordering, and overseeing, the wholesale massacre
of villages that refused his demands. He had personally executed two
ISI agents and Kharzai’s CIA contact, luckily the latter died
without revealing Kharzai's duplicity. Al Gwahari still trusted him,
as far as he knew.

"Thank you sir, I am flattered you would invite me in,"
Kharzai said bowing his head, his gaze staying focused on the floor
in a gesture of humility.

"No, it is I who am flattered that a famous warrior of Allah
like you would marry my daughter."

"I look forward to being your son in law."

"The ceremony begins tomorrow, the rest of the guests will be
here by morning," al Gwahari said. "The next four days and
nights will be for celebration, but now there is work to be done."

"Then I will not waste your time sir."

Ali motioned to Kharzai, "Al Gul, bring in the case of
surveillance information we left in the car. After that you may go to
the mosque and begin your purification while we discuss the mission

"Thank you Ali aga."

Kharzai stepped out the door and back into the bright sunlight. The
boys, had given up on their soccer game and sat on the shaded side of
the house playing with marbles in the dirt. Leila approached the
house holding a tray of cups and a pot of steaming tea. Her head
bowed in modesty, she turned her eyes up to meet his face and smiled
when he looked back at her, adding an exaggerated swish to her hips
as she drew near.

"Three more days my love, only three days and we will be one,"
he said.

She twisted her face into pout, "I don't know. I think I might
change my mind."

Kharzai raised an eyebrow and forced his face into a serious
expression, "If you change your mind now, I’ll strap on a
shaheed vest and throw myself into a train."

"Then I will have to marry you. You're too cute to blow yourself

They laughed. He held the door open and she walked into the house.
Their eyes locked, like magnets unable to resist each other as she
passed. The door closed behind her, breaking the bond. He walked to
the car, practically floating above the ground, opened the trunk and
retrieved a suitcase of files and photos. Most of the images were
already in the hands of the CIA and ISI, and counter-ops were already
working on defensive measures. As he lifted the heavy case his cell
phone bleeped the tone for a text message. Kharzai set the case on
the lip of the open trunk and pulled the cell phone from his pants
pocket. He thumbed the text message button and read the words on the

Impact imminent...DUCK!

A bright hiss screeched in the distance growing louder fast. His
heart leaped into his throat and he started for the house. He opened
his mouth shouting for the boys to run but the words were torn from
his breath as the house erupted with an earth shattering roar. The
force of the explosion threw him back and over the car landing in the
dirt with a brain shaking impact. He willed his stalled lungs to
expand and suck in air, then pushed himself up onto his feet and
stumbled forward.

Where the house had stood was a heap to shattered bricks and
splintered wood. Clouds of dust slowly settled over the rubble.
Terrified villagers peaked from inside their homes, looking first at
the destruction then up to the sky praying more bombs were not on the
way. Dazed, Kharzai stumbled into the ruins searching, praying that
she had stepped out the back door, or by some miracle had been
protected. He froze, his eyes locked on a piece of bright orange
linen that glowed in sharp contrast to the shattered brick and
charred wood. He moved toward it and saw her stockinged foot, twisted
beneath a large mass of crumbled stone. He started to reach down, to
dig her out. A glimmer of gold sparkled two meters away, her
necklace. He stepped toward it and reached down to pick it up, hands
trembling, tears welling up in his eyes. As he pulled on it, a stone
rolled aside, revealing strands of long brown hair that wavered in a
breeze that kicked up low to the ground. He glanced back at her foot
and instantly realized that Leila's hair and necklace was entirely
too far from her feet. His stomach lurched and forced himself to a
place of detached calm. He pulled a folding knife from his pocket and
cut it as close to the source as he could, refusing the urge to dig
her body out, not wanting to see her face, only moments before full
of life and beauty, now mangled in death. He would only hold on to
the memory of the living woman he loved, he tied the lock of hair
into a knot around the gold chain and pushed it into his pocket.

Kharzai walked into a Lahore coffee house, the acrid smell of tobacco
smoke and strong coffee stinging his nostrils as he crossed the
mostly empty room to a table in the far corner. A deeply tanned
caucasian man looked up from the table and acknowledged Kharzai's
approach. He started to rise but Kharzai's expression advised him to
stay seated.

"You were supposed to wait for my signal," Kharzai growled.

"We had it on satellite,” the man said, “and knew we would
only have one chance."

Kharzai grabbed the man by the collar and wrenched him up from the

“We gave you a warning message,” the man pleaded impotently.

“You killed a bunch of kids!”

Barely controlled violence punctuated Kharzai's voice.

The man's face twisted in expectation of getting hit. Kharzai
dropped him back into the chair.

“Blame the Taliban, not me!” the man straightened his collar
looking nervously around, “They’re the ones who hide among

“You could have waited until my signal.”

The man rose to his feet, “Al Gwahari would have slipped away
again, it was worth...”

Kharzai rammed his fist straight into the man's nose. Blood sprayed
across the man's white shirt and he stumbled backwards, knocking the
table over and falling to the floor.

"You killed my wife you bastard!"

The man rose to his knees and touched his face. He winced and looked
down in horror as blood continued to pulse from his nose and spread
over his hands.

"Jesus, you broke my nose!"

"You’re lucky you still have testicles you son of a bitch,”
Kharzai picked up a napkin from the table and wiped the blood from
his knuckles. “Tell your boss that I am out."

"You can’t quit," the man's voice was liquid and nasal.
"You’re in too deep, they won’t let you go."

Kharzai stared down at him in a barely controlled rage.

"Tell them I am dead, and if anyone comes to find me, they will
be too."

Cover art done by Jerry Scullion of