The Mosul Legacy by Christopher Lowery puts us firmly into the mid-teens of the 21st century. We have four narrative anchors. Ibrahim is a devout but deluded Muslim living in Koln, Germany. He is an Iraqi exile, his father has been killed while serving with ISIL, and he is determined to ‘do his bit’ to establish The Caliphate. Karl is a battle-hardened and indisputably brave ISIL soldier. He has seen his forces capture the ancient city of Mosul against tremendous odds, but now, courtesy of Western firepower, his men are about to be overwhelmed. Faqir-al-Douri is a restaurant owner in Mosul. He and his family are, unfortunately for them, Christians. He has traded food, accomodation and money with the ISIL conquerors. Their part of the bargain? They let him live. Max Kellerman is a German police officer with particular responsibility for preventing or – in the worst case, finding those responsible for – acts of terror.
Lowery sets out his narrative stall with those four threads which will eventually weave together to powerful effect. Ibrahim, his puppet strings pulled from afar courtesy of the internet, plans a terrorist bomb attack which goes spectacularly wrong and he goes on the run. A revered and respected fighter, Karl, has to watch in frustration while his ISIL soldiers are outgunned and overwhelmed by coalition forces, and his position is undermined by over-promoted jobsworths in his own organisation. Faqir has finally had enough of living in the shell-torn morgue that Mosul has become, and gathers together his hard-earned savings and is determined to find a better life for his family. Battling German privacy laws which prevent him from publishing photos of his suspect, Kellerman presses on and is determined to bring his man to justice.
Understandably, the geographical action involving Faqir and Ibrahim darts about like a firefly, while the doomed Karl and the determined Kellerman, fight on their own ground, be it of their own choosing or not. Of course, the various strands of the book are fated to converge, but just how, when and where is not for me to reveal.
This is a big, sprawling novel – nearly 450 pages – but it is grimly readable. I say ‘grimly’ because it goes behind bland newspaper headlines and ten-second TV news video clips, to reveal the whole Iraq – Syria situation as the ruinous, depressing and insoluble shambles it has become. It would be impossible to write a novel like this with it being political, but I don’t think Lowery (right) allows himself to become partisan. For sure, he pulls no punches in his scathing depiction of the social intolerance of many Muslim communities, and the genocidal fanaticism of ISIL which is as close to mental illness as makes no difference. He is, however, just as clear sighted in his scepticism about the real reasons why America and its allies – most pointedly Britain – became involved in Iraq in the first place.
Sometimes the ironies in the novel are cruel in the extreme, most pointedly as we watch the deluded zealot Ibrahim waltz through Europe unimpeded, thanks to the Schengen Agreement and his German passport, while Faqir and his family have to creep across borders at the dead of night, pay off unscrupulous traffickers at every turn, and suffer harrowing mental and physical torment caused, principally, by people such as Ibrahim and Karl.
Novels dealing with large scale political and military cruelty don’t have a duty to explain why men commit the evil deeds they do. Despite the brilliant writing of Philip Kerr in his Bernie Gunther novels I am no clearer now as to why Heydrich and Goebbels acted as they did. Lowery has written a deeply disturbing account of Islam’s revenge on ‘infidel’ Europe, but my understanding of the motives of his characters remains a blur. I can see that Karl does what he does because he believes ‘x’. Why does he believe ‘x’? Next question, please.
Sometimes, novels entertain in a transitory and peripheral sense. We enjoy the language, shiver at the thrills and bite our nails at the suspense, and then say to ourselves, “Well that was fun – thank goodness it’s only fiction.” This is a book which lies heavy on the soul, to be honest, because it takes no liberties with reality. We gaze into an abyss which has been created by our own governments, and has engulfed real people. Don’t read The Mosul Legacy as a holiday diversion or an imagined escape from whatever world enfolds you. This is now. This what we have created. The Mosul Legacy is published by Urbane Publications and will be available on 27th September.