Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
Extraordinary renditions to inhuman prisons and barbaric torture have been commonplace ideas recently. A few of the guards have been punished when the publicity has been too strong, but overall most of those involved have got away with it. Who are the pilots of the aircraft, who are the interrogators, who are the superior officers who direct everything? In many cases we have no idea. Some of these troubles have now lasted so long that the men involved have moved on or even retired.
Vast amounts of cash – literally bundles of notes – were flown into Iran and Afghanistan for deniable hand-outs to potential friends and to bribe more likely foes, but pallets of it dropped into quartermaster’s tents. In fact, the money did not just disappear there – remember that some of the renditions took prisoners to Middle Eastern prisons, but others took them to former cold war airstrips on the edge of the Steppes and clearings in the Taiga.
Recently, Chris Simms’ new novel, Cut Adrift explored where that money might have tainted Britain, now Alex Berenson’s THE MIDNIGHT HOUSE looks at its potential effect across the pond. The “house” in question is a bunker in a desolate part of Poland where a specialist party has worked to obtain information from Mujahedeen removed from Afghanistan. Now, that team has been disbanded and its members have returned to their old lives in the USA; except that they have started to die. Perhaps a suicide here, perhaps a drunk wandering into a bayou there. There can no perhaps, though, when the CCTV shows a gunman opening a car door and blasting its driver, using the same gun he had used the day before.
When the team’s business had been predicated on deniability but its practice had been so unpleasant the first suspicion might be that Afghan relations are out for revenge. On the other hand, might some other branch of the company want to clean up every trace of The Midnight House, leaving no living witness, no culprit alive?
Then, think, if you’ve been turned into a torture machine might you have become, involuntarily, a killing machine; one who has turned on his or her colleagues? Finally, though, just like anywhere on the torture trail, remember those big unaudited bundles of green; what if they got sent home, instead of buying another jet aircraft; what if you were home and thought you needed every penny to give you a satisfactory retirement, wouldn’t you want to rub out every one who had an idea you’d been skimming? Of course, you would.
Now that you’ve admitted you would be ready to murder anyone who knew about your illicit pile you know what could have happened to the people who were sent to The Midnight House. You are almost one of them. Former CIA agent John Wells has almost been one of them, now he must find who is killing them.
Now go back. There is one thing that the men who worked in the basement never did. They never doubted that the prisoners they were sent were rightly sent there. That’s rather unfortunate. Why should an organisation which could not even bother to balance its cash flow show any more care about who it rendered and why? As he cuts between John Wells’s investigation in the USA, in Egypt and elsewhere, Alex Berenson also intercuts the stories of some of the prisoners, their secrets and their imprisonment. The prisoners that no one wants to admit to, the prisoners who have disappeared, the prisoners who are more of a problem dead than alive.
Serial killer thriller, international adventure, war story. There is something of each in THE MIDNIGHT HOUSE. The windows of the house, though, open onto the darkness at the edge of town. Perhaps you should peer through them.