Review: Long Reach by Mike Lunnon-Wood

By Colin Salt

Long Reach was a novel that I started off with iffy feelings towards, but which has grown on me as I recognized the rarity of the elements within it. The plot is very simple. Guatemala invades Belize, and the British fight back. The novel's alternate history status is slightly iffy and centers largely around which pieces of military equipment were in service at the time of the novel compared with the publication date of the book. Still, the genre is small enough that I believe borderline cases like this can fit in, especially given how most thrillers will explictly take place in either the present or "near future" near publication.

The prose and structure of the book is weirdly lush and overdescribed yet somewhat flat at the same time. It's as if a time traveler gave Hemingway a copy of a Larry Bond thriller and, on one of his worse days, that famous author decided to write his own in that style. While slightly weird, its distinctiveness has a charm of its own, and it never becomes bad enough to actually make the book feel unreadable.

Long Reach is a little more low level and more focused on the man-in-the-trenches than Bond's classic "big war thrillers", but still has a similar format. It takes a somewhat potential war, goes in depth on the forces involved, hops around viewpoints, and aims for more verisimilitude than the usual cheap thriller. While an armchair general like me cannot comment on anything more than spherical cow technical "plausibility", Lunnon-Wood's books have been spoken highly of by British veterans and the effort and research to try and make it grounded is definitely there.

(This attitude was not present in Dark Rose, a book by the same author featuring a Libyan invasion of Ireland that arguably counts as the most bizarre and out-there technothriller ever. But that's another story for another time)

One thing I learned from my review blogging is that there really aren't that many military thrillers that try to do what this book does. For every viewpoint hopping, broad-scope story you have dozens centered around a handful of elites. For every book that tries to get even the absolute basics right, you have dozens with stuff like "machine gun pistols" firing homing bullets in the 1980s, "flamethrower Abrams M60 tanks", and battles where using the term "action movie logic" to describe them is being extremely generous.

So I can forgive the rough patches and admire this novel for what it is. It does a smaller scale conflict in a natural-seeming way, never falls short completely in any category that matters, and serves as something that remains distinctive. And that counts as a victory in my mind. You just don't see works like this too often, and so Long Reach deserves to be highlighted and possibly even emulated-there are certainly far worse tales that one could use as inspiration.

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Colin Salt reviews other genres at his blog: Fuldapocalypse Fiction and has written The Smithtown Unit and its sequel for Sea Lion Press