Ok, so I’ve hit some stumbling blocks already: Do I just read new books? Do I just read books by journalists who maybe aren’t known on a national stage? And what about books by journalists who are already successful authors?
I’ve decided ‘no’ to the last question, because it would preclude the likes of Kerry Wilkinson, the best-selling, self-published Kindle author whose latest Jessica Daniel novel I’m currently reading. Likewise, I‘ve just discovered Jon Evans on Amazon and it would remove him from this as well – and his books look good.
So to the first two questions. Well, in choosing Ben Brown’s Sandstealers, I have to admit I thought I was picking up a relatively new book. Actually, it was published in 2009. As for reading stuff by by journalists who aren’t household names, well, Ben Brown’s not really known for his fiction, is he?
Even if there aren’t many people who can call on BBC colleagues John Simpson, Fergal Keane and Emily Maitlis for reviews … although you’d hope they’d put professional reputation ahead of giving a friend a lift in the book charts.
Reading Sandstealers was a peculiar experience. Used to seeing Brown in the war-torn locations where this book is set – including Sarajevo, Iraq and parts of Africa – it’s obvious the vivid descriptions he provides of locations are based on seeing them first hand, but how far from the truth are the antics of the journalists who are at the heart of the story?
The books centres around award-winning war journalist Danny Lowenstein, who is the de-facto figurehead of a small band of journalists who seemingly live for the thrill of covering a war. Their small band grows by one when a young reporter called Rachel, bored of life on a provincial newspaper in America, arrives in Sarajevo and is taken under the wing of experienced photographer Becky.
The book begins, though, in Iraq as Lowenstein – not one to share a story – heads into a dangerous part of Iraq to interview a warlord. After dodging bullets, bombs and snipers in wars across the globe, it appears his time has come when he is kidnapped. How his friends react to what’s happened is determined by what has gone on over the previous decade, across several warzones.
Chapter-by-chapter, the book flits between Iraq and previous war encounters, with each personal twist in the relationship of Danny and each of his ‘friends’ – including Rachel and Becky – interweaves with what they see while in the middle of conflicts, and how they react. It’s fair to say – without giving too much away – that no-one escapes the book unblemished … but asking the question: “How would you react?” adds another dimension to this book.
About the author: Ben Brown is a long-serving BBC reporter who now presents across various BBC News programmes
Where to buy it: Amazon, on Kindle and in paperback