Mission implausible

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 July, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 July, 1993, 12:00am

SHADOW OVER BABYLON By David Mason (Bloomsbury, $255) IF you are going to spend the first four chapters of a book piling on the suspense before revealing the target of a top secret assassination plot, then it would seem wise not to stick the victim's picture on the front cover and splash his identity all over the blurb.

But that's the publicity machine for you. Since the main selling point taken for Mr Mason's book is that this assassination plot against Saddam Hussein actually happened, readers have to know who they are getting.

This is Mr Mason's first book and while he stumbles over characterisation and descriptive passages, once he's into the plot proper the flow markedly improves and the story begins to grip.

According to the plot, the British Government unofficially and circuitously offers ex-Royal Marine Ed Howard squillions to put together a plan to assassinate Saddam and find the men to do it.

How he recruits the required men and their method for getting themselves and their weapons into Iraq is fascinating reading. The story becomes less interesting once they are there, and credibility flies right out the window at what is meant to be the climactic moment.

But Mr Mason does gain some Brownie points for the sub-plot by which the group's activities are spotted by satellite surveillance, alarming both Washington and Whitehall since neither side knows who they are or what they're doing.

Shadow Over Babylon is a credible first effort at an action adventure tale - and the movie possibilities are endless. But if, as the publishers imply, this is a true story, then either it is badly told or that's a pig I can see flying across the sky.