Former soldier details British special forcesBest known for his true story of an ill-fated special forces sortie he led behind Iraqi lines during the first war in the Gulf ― “Bravo Two Charlie” ― Andy McNab’s second book is an autobiography leading up to that life changing event.
“Immediate Action” chronicles his life growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in London to his enlistment as a boy soldier in the British Army and finally as a member of the elite 22nd Airborne Regiment ― the Special Air Service.
As a full fledged autobiography, however, the book is somewhat lacking. McNab tends to cover his early years in a somewhat slap-dash fashion, although for foreign readers it does provide a fascinating glimpse of lower class life in Great Britain in the late ’60s to early ’70s.
Also certain colloquial phrases such as “on the council” (local government provided housing) and “bomb sites” (construction areas), alongside the dietary habits of poor teens at the time ― “cheese rolls and frothy coffee” or “a bottle of Coke and a Mars bar” ― have a certain wry appeal.
Where the book really scores is in its subsequent account of life in the regular army and the arduous process of “selection” for training in special forces.
There is a caveat here though ― there are precious few, if any, factual books about the modern Special Air Service or “the regiment” as they call themselves, and so no cross referencing is possible to ascertain the veracity of McNab’s assertions. We solely have to rely on the writer’s words.
This being the case, the exhaustive detail of the selection process and “continuation” training, plus commentaries on actual missions in Northern Ireland, Africa, Belize and Oman, give serious credibility to the writer. (It should also be noted that many did not want the book to be published, adding further weight to this.)
The bulk of the book covers McNab’s life in the Special Air Service, from selection (which he failed the first time) to the missions overseas leading up to the Gulf War. It also sheds light on the purported mystique of the regiment, which McNab notes is generally built up by people who have no knowledge of the unit. Indeed he points out that rather than being a bunch of Rambo style sociopathic killers, members are highly trained specialists with a respect for life.
For military enthusiasts or those interested in special forces the book will provide a keen insight.
“Immediate Action”By Andy McNab 508 pages, Corgi Books
By Chris Price