Book Reviews: Power Play, Isis: The Heart Of Terror & Permanent Removal – Permanent Power, Or Playing With Terror

May 13, 2017



Power Play by Mike Nicol                               6.5

Isis: The Heart Of Terror by Eugene Bach      7

Permanent Removal by Alan Cowell              7


Mike Nicol’s tales of gangsters, petty criminals and the investigators who either scrutinise or abet their activities in Cape Town have now developed to the stage where there are dynasties – on both sides of the line. Krista Bishop is the tough-as-nails daughter of Mace Bishop, protagonist of Nicol’s Revenge Trilogy, and has the same business acumen – that is to say, not much – as her father. Perpetually short of cash, she is forced to take on an assignment she’d rather not handle: looking after a couple of shady businessmen with links to even shadier government middlemen. Complicating matters considerably is an apparent turf war involving gang kingpin Titus Anders and his fearsome family and a new player on the scene, intent on taking away Anders’ business and his security. The Cape Town in which this narrative plays out is not one the city’s tourist board wants revealed, and the way Nicol develops a sequence of events that becomes ever more brutal and grisly in locations that Cape Town residents and visitors will know well and will have – until now – felt safe in, is part of the book’s complex, uneasy appeal. Compelling gangster dramas are usually associated with New York or Chicago, London or Naples, and the tropes associated with those stories, though effective, are well-worn to the point of cliché. Power Play is different, achieving the same effect using a language and vocabulary endemic to not only the Western Cape, but also to a particular criminal sub-class operating in that area, as well as a set of reactions to various slights (real or perceived) unique to this community. Everyone in the story is corrupt to some degree. Conversely, nearly every character has a redeeming characteristic – more difficult to find, but evident if you look hard enough. This combination means that it’s difficult to like anyone playing a role in the plot, but slightly easier to formulate a scale on which to rate how much you dislike them, thus allowing you to hope that something bad might befall one person sooner than the next. You’ll still likely be shocked when each new tipping point is reached, though – Nicol’s imagination is a dark, pitiless place and his characters are capable of terrible cruelty, and they value their honour above the cost of maintaining their reputations. – BD


The author of Isis: The Heart Of Terror uses the pseudonym “Eugene Bach”, but is an American member of the Chinese underground church and does not want to be identified. His credentials in writing this book include 15 years assisting in missionary efforts into closed countries such as Iraq and Syria. He is part of the “Back to Jerusalem” movement, a China-based missionary society that seeks to evangelise the territories between the Great Wall of China and the Western Wall of Jerusalem, a movement dating back to the 1920s and now engaged in approaching Muslims with the Gospel rather than armaments. He covers the recent history of Western engagement with radical Islam, and the impact of the incidents at Abu Ghraib on the Arab world and on an individual imprisoned there – al-Baghdadi, the nascent leader of Isis. Bach traces the rise of Isis through the Arab Spring, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, the civil war in Syria and the West’s inability to deal with the rapidly changing world of the Middle East. There is a chapter outlining briefly the history and nature of Islam. This is a very cursory discussion and should not be taken as authoritative. There are better books that analyse the issues less simplistically.  However, he is making the point that the Islamic faith can and has lent itself to warfare on and the enslavement of “unbelievers”. Isis is, for Bach, the most cruel and repressive form that Islam has ever taken. He details the persecution of Christians and those of other faiths, and those who do not bow to the “caliphate’s” version of Islam. He speaks with the authority of an eye-witness, personally often in danger. His belief that the present crisis can be tracked in Biblical prophecy, particularly the “curse of Nimrod”, is open to deeper discussion. There is a moving chapter on Kurdistan and also on the little-known Yazidi people of norther Iraq, who have suffered enormously under Isis. The relationship between Isis, the PLO, Hezbollah and Hamas is examined. Isis is seen as a global threat, infiltrating many Western countries, and its methods and tactics are set out briefly. The final chapters deal with the BTJ (Back to Jerusalem) approach, which is non-militaristic and based on the presentation of the Gospel utilising high technology and also the development of small business enterprises. Do not regard this book as a sufficient discussion of the Muslim faith and how it has been radicalised in recent days. It is, however, a clear statement of the nature and danger presented by Isis. It presents a radically different strategy to arms and politics. Well worth reading. – RH


South African history lives on, as history does. A former American diplomat visits South Africa and makes good on a promise he made to a woman whose husband was murdered by special police forces during apartheid. Although the Truth and Reconciliation Commision was supposed to cleanse the souls of perpetrators and be a closure, much remains untold and covered up. Why do some live on in luxury while the widows and children have lost their husbands and fathers? The story reveals a chapter of our past that is not finished and will not be for a long time to come. Much of the narrative is déjà vu, but it makes one realise that the suffering continues till this day. Cowell uses this historical background as thriller theme for his Permanent Removal.  The diplomat visits SA to attend a conference and then meets the widow to whom he pledged support to expose the true truth of her husband’s death and the face behind the plot; the traitor who did not appear before the TRC; the guy who got away. This is as much a whodunit as a psychological analysis of the past. Worth reading. – DB