Source: Review copy
Publication: 23 June 2022 from Orion
My thanks to Orion and Compulsive Readers for an early copy for review.
Nine hostages. Ten hours. One chance to save them all.
Lee James Connor has found his purpose in life: to follow the teachings of far-right extremist leader, Nicholas Farmer. So when his idol is jailed, he comes up with the perfect plan: take a local immigrant support group hostage until Farmer is released.
Grace Wheatley is no stranger to loneliness having weathered the passing of her husband, whilst being left to raise her son alone. The local support group is her only source of comfort. Until the day Lee James Connor walks in and threatens the existence of everything she’s ever known.
Superintendent Alex Lewis may be one of the most experienced hostage negotiators on the force, but there’s no such thing as a perfect record. Still haunted by his last case, can he connect with Connor – and save his nine hostages – before it’s too late?
I am delighted to be starting off the blog tour for a book that grabbed my attention and held it firmly throughout. The Siege is a straightforward story, well told. It is the story of a hostage situation and it focuses in on three characters: the policeman, Superintendent Alex Lewis who is the Chief Negotiator, Grace Wheatley, a woman who is being held hostage and Lee James Connor, the hostage taker.
The first part of John Sutherland’s novel is spent grounding us in the everyday lives of these characters. He shows us that they are individuals with their own stories and preoccupations and this helps to ground the book and the situation it deals with, in reality.
Lee James Connor is a troubled young man. He is typical of the many young people who have been pulled into the terrible online culture of hate and poison. A culture that distorts the truth and pulls the angry, hurt and disaffected into a group, ready to be groomed.
For James Lee Connors it could have easily been the Incel movement, but this young man has been captured by the online radical-right extremists whose violent, homicidal actions are focused on racist ideology.
Connors, could he but see it, has been caught up in digital hate culture and his ideology has been formed through his online interactions. Like so many, his confused and angry frustrations are channelled into hate and aggression and his constant use of skunk only helps to fuel his paranoia.
Grace Wheatley is mum to Isaiah and is herself no stranger to violence. A daughter of the Windrush generation she is a committed church-goer and on this fateful occasion is in church to assist with welcoming a young Syrian refugee family, recently arrived in the country.
Alex Lewis is overworked and exhausted. He’s also suffering from PTSD but in typical male fashion his remedy consists of completely ignoring this and assuming it will go away. A father of two boys, he feels he is failing as a husband and as a father and he is troubled over his last negotiating mission which ended badly, through no fault of his, or anyone’s.
Nicely written with a tight plot and steady pacing, I found it easy to become engrossed in these lives and the storyline. I had no trouble believing the scenario and Sutherland’s own experience as a hostage negotiator shines through with authenticity on every page. He deals so well with the impact of what it means to be taken hostage and on the on the psychological impact on both the hostages and the hostage taker as well as on the police negotiating team and lead negotiator.
Interestingly the whole novel is kept low key but remarkably intense from the dialogue to the action. Everything in the police operation feels thought through and very well planned (reassuringly!). But what no-one can take into account are the unpredictable elements. The impact of the heavy duty cannabis combined with the mental strain on Connors as he negotiates his demands with the police. Then there is the bravery and sheer humanity of Grace, who sees a young man in pain and connects with him in that level.
Sutherland shows us the complexity of a hostage scenario and the weight that rests on the shoulders of the police in such situations. It is tense and atmospheric and the drama feels very real.
Verdict: A riveting story of the power of compassion and human connection that helps the reader to connect with each of the principal characters. The dangers of online radicalism and the manipulation of social media to create division and hate are clearly set out. I really got caught up in this powerful story and found myself willing a successful outcome for all the characters.
John Sutherland is a father of three who lives with his wife and children in south London. For more than twenty-five years he served as an officer in the Metropolitan Police, rising to the rank of Chief Superintendent before his retirement on medical grounds in 2018. John is a sought-after public speaker and commentator who regularly appears on TV and radio and writes for major newspapers. His first book, BLUE, written and published while he was still serving in the Met, was a Sunday Times bestseller. It tells the remarkable stories of his policing life and describes his long road to recovery following the serious nervous breakdown that ended his operational policing career.