The Outsiders, By Gerald Seymour


In this newspaper, the novelist Gerald Seymour was asked which fictional character he thought he most resembled. His answer: "One of those johnnies who sent agents off in the early Le Carré stories but stays on the safe side of the border".

But if Seymour's own vocation as a writer is risk-free, it might be argued he has bought the right to a more sedate lifestyle after his years as a reporter covering events in Borneo, Vietnam, Israel and Northern Ireland.

All this gave him material for his thriller-writing career. There is another resonance to Seymour's remark: those he sends off into dangerous territory are, in fact, his readers. With each book, we enter a dangerous universe, and are totally involved with utterly plausible characters, faced with moral choices that are rarely straightforward.

The Outsiders is something of a "greatest hits" compendium for Seymour. Elements from such novels as Killing Ground, The Collaborator and his debut Harry's Game are all stirred into the brew. But there is one new element that renders the book galvanic, even if this is not quite top-drawer Seymour.

Winnie Monks, known as "the Boss", is in charge of the Organised Crime Group. When one of the team is kicked to death and his hand severed, Winnie vows she will bring his killer to justice. Years pass, and government cuts reduce her team. But she learns that the killer is "the Major", a Russian gangster en route to Marbella.

In this fleshpot, Winnie mounts an operation to bring about his destruction. But things go wrong because of a feckless young Englishman, house-sitting next door to Winnie's quarry.

The single most important element here is the obsessive Winnie, whose pursuit of revenge for her dead agent is the motor for all that happens. Winnie is a forceful creation, with her burning resentment against those who feel contempt for the way the rest of us live. "They are so arrogant, those people," she mutters. "They think they're untouchable."