INVECTIVE by Andrew Owen
(a book review)

Many people would feel they have every right to curse the western democracies in relation to the so-called ‘war on terror.’ I cannot speak to the author’s motivation for the title, but on the other hand, I can see how it is apropos.

Invective is an indictment, a pilgrimage and a self examination. It is a rare courage will perform the honest introspection and make amends with self, per the instruction of Jesus: “You hypocrite! First remove the log from your own eye, that you may see clearly to removes the speck from your brother’s eye.” Author Andrew Owen, a UK veteran of Her Majesty’s armed forces, with service in Iraq and Afghanistan, is no hypocrite.

Invective, ostensibly a fiction, is a study in intra and inter-personal conflict in relation to national policy and related motivations. Sometimes this is in a guise patriotism, at other times in relation to narcissism and self-justification. At times it is a mix of all of the preceding, in that frail condition of the human psychology struggling to know purpose, meaning and establish legacy.

The protagonist Ismael is, in a sense, a triple agent; an asset of Her Majesty’s intelligence services in the same moment exploring, as an agent having penetrated an Islamist cell, whether to be a ‘terrorist’ could be justified; all the while holding out for a third agency .. to be, above all, true to himself.

Considering the world of clandestine operations is rife with paradox and plausible improbabilities in juxtaposition to our more ,normal’ expectation of reality, this short novel does not disappoint.

The fact of spy services unforgiving nature is made clear. Because Ismael’s handler, Gary, is uncertain of Ismael’s loyalty, there is a sense there would be no hesitation to deliberately attempt erasing his life, were that to be deemed necessary. Ismael’s other handler, the ‘good cop’ Alex, appears to have been a case of ethical attrition who bailed out of the business. If this is the intended message in relation to the character Alex, that western democracies security services are becoming increasingly politicized, it would match my own understanding perfectly. Those many ‘Alex’ characters who’d signed on in good faith, when coming to understanding of the actuality, will bail out of the business when killing a ‘sheik’ devoted to fighting the western democracies, trumps sparing a young boy’s innocent life. Invective appears unambiguous in this regard.

The hapless character ‘Muj’, leader of the cell Ismael had penetrated, is one of those many losers who are too small a mentality to grasp there might be a different direction to develop one’s personal psychology than Mosaic law’s ‘eye for an eye’ .. he fits the mold of Captain Ahab quite well, but the same could be said of people opposed to him. For instance Ismael’s handler, Gary, in his self-propagandized obsession with what he equally believes is right. Other than orientation to loyalty, these are mirror image personalities when it is considered either are willing to entertain a slaughter of the lives of innocents to reach their objectives.

The problem of cellularization plays in the story as well. It would not surprise me to discover an American asset in a Britain based Islamist terror cell, unbeknownst to the British. For the Americans, the so-called ‘war on terror’ is borderless and allies are not consulted on many activities on their territory. It is my 1st hand knowledge this contempt (or arrogance) has been particularly true in respect to American intelligence operations in Germany. Double assets unaware of the other’s role, can be a nightmare. In the American legacy, our intelligence had become so cellularized, we’ve had spies spying on spies at cross purpose, and one can only expect this phenomena will be compounded where allied intelligence is a case of one does not know one’s left hand from one’s right.

John Le Carre is mentioned and this does not surprise me. In coming to understand the larger world of intelligence, one faces a choice; to come to grip honestly one’s surrounding, and motive through self exam, or to surrender to those unseen forces driving us off a cliff like so many lemmings. Andrew Owen’s choice had been made in the spirit of Le Carre, that is to say the honest self-examination.

The book is well paced and insightful exploration of a human psyche’s voyage to understanding and coming to terms with one’s self in circumstance fraught with difficulty, and well worth a read. Additionally, the exemplary act of the author’s proceeds donated to the charity ‘War Child’, makes Invective a particularly worthy purchase.

Purchase Invective at HERE (link)