Magazine article The Spectator

Rumbled in the Jungle

Magazine article The Spectator

Rumbled in the Jungle

Article excerpt

Cry Havoc by Simon Mann John Blake, £19.99, pp. 351, ISBN 9781843584032 This book is a mess. Simon Mann may have been brought up on John Buchan, educated at Eton and Sandhurst, and taken Conrad and the Iliad with him on his African travels, but his style is appalling - a sort of demotic militarese. Short sharp sentences.

Few verbs. Acronyms sprinkled like confetti. The third sentence reads: 'Rock-crag fingers claw my arse.'

And we skip all over the place, between Angola, Equatorial Guinea, South Africa and Sierra Leone, with flashbacks and fastforwards and no index. The publisher's boast that identities would be revealed and the mighty shaken on their thrones turns out to be empty. 'The Boss' goes unnamed, as does 'the Croc'. And other names are changed for- says an apologetic note - 'legal reasons'.

So the book lacks charm. And yet everyone who has met Mann agrees that this is the quality he possesses in abundance. What has gone wrong? There is no mention of a ghost-writer, but there is a fulsome tribute to a 'creative editor', who, I suppose, may be responsible for the haphazard style. This is a great pity - for within the chapters on Angola in particular, there is much interesting new stuff. And Mann's description of his time in Mugabe's jails, which amounted to almost four years, is fascinating in a ghastly way as well as being genuinely moving.

As for the name changes, the only people to have made money out of the failed plot to overthrow the dictator of Equatorial Guinea are lawyers. It seems as if the draft of the book was sent out to all the interested parties pre-publication; and that, for instance, two conversations with Lady Thatcher in South Africa were cut completely. Mark Thatcher, as usual, is vilified - in my view unjustly. His main crime, and that of 'the Boss', seems to have been a failure to send Mann so much as a postcard in jail. …

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