This is the fourth wartime novel from author James Holland to feature the rough and ready Jack Tanner, an uncompromising hero very much, as has often been described, in the Richard Sharpe mould.
At the height of the African campaign during World War Two, we find Sergeant Tanner recovering in a Cairo hospital from wounds received in his previous adventure, Blood of Honour. But Tanner is in for a surprise, for not only does he receive a battlefield commission, but he is then seconded to SIME, the Secret Intelligence Middle East, so that he can help his old pal, Major Alex Vaughan, track down a spy network operating in the Egyptian capital. Tanner is frustrated at not being able to be back at the front in the thick of the action, and this has an effect on the novel, too.
For, though a constantly exciting read, Hellfire is really two books in one fighting for your attention: a typically Commando-like tale of derring-do, with explosive battle scenes as Monty’s troops try to put a stop to Rommel’s onslaught, and a classic espionage tale set among the claustrophobic streets of a very atmospherically drawn Cairo, full of shady characters and beautiful spies. Both types of war, of course, went on side-by-side, but it can be frustrating to be so enveloped in the chase for the villainous secret agents, to then be suddenly thrown into the dusty confusion of a night-time desert fire-fight.
That aside, this remains a gripping read throughout, and is packed with Holland’s impressive and always impeccable details of actual warfare.