Between Ghosts is a standalone romantic thriller by Garrett Leigh set mainly in Iraq, during the horrors of conflict in Basra. The main characters are all English and except for Connor, members of an elite SAS squad.
Connor Reagan is a journalist and in 2003, he marched with a million others through London, decrying the imminent invasion of Iraq. Eight months later, his brother, James, is killed in action in Mosul. This tragedy leads Connor to change the focus of his journalism and his future.
Nat Thompson is a sergeant in the SAS and none too pleased when he is given a war correspondent to embed with his team. He will have to keep this ‘journo’ alive, and check his columns are not giving away too much. Nat expects a hapless nuisance, but Connor turns out to be quick, clever and resourceful. Nat also finds him highly desirable, but does not have time for affairs of the heart, as his elite squad, Charlie-3, are rarely out of the action for long. Nat has an additional weight on his metaphoric shoulders – the death of his best friend ‘Pogo’ haunts him, as he blames himself for his death. This strengthens Nat’s determination that no one else dies on his watch even unwanted journalists.
There are many aspects of this novel that I really liked. I loved the world building, and felt happily immersed in the lives of the members of Charlie-3. There were enough individuals to make Charlie-3 feel like a realistic, balanced unit, but not so many that the reader loses track and fails to connect. Connor and Nat dance around their attraction to each other while they are on the safe bases before being sent to Basra. However, it doesn’t take long before they act upon the attraction once ensconced in their dangerous base in Iraq.
I enjoyed the fact that the author managed to steer away from the sex under fire trope, which I think everyone finds too ridiculous. However, in any of the romantic or sexual scenes, the thought of danger is never far away, as they are in war torn Basra. The base seems accurately portrayed, as many of us can remember the reports from Saddam Hussein’s Palace on the television news. The setting and action feel authentic, and although I am sure watered down for ‘romance’ readers, the actions and vernacular of the soldiers feel authentic too. The urgency of Nat and Connor’s romantic liaisons and the action scenes give the read a greater intensity than if it had been set in a home base or town.
I really liked the main characters. Connor is hopeful and gentle, but not annoyingly over idealistic. Nat bears the mental and physical scars from his years in combat, but the author avoids making him too cynical, so an emotional relationship with Connor feels possible and enjoyable. Both men have their ghosts; for Connor it is his brother’s death, and the secrecy surrounding it, and for Nat it is the death of his best friend ‘Pogo’. They have to gain peace with these ghosts before they can attempt happiness, and this in a setting that no longer knows what peace is.
I didn’t give a higher rating because, although I mention ‘intensity’, there was not enough of it for me. Love and sex whilst in permanent danger, should be really nail biting, sweaty, highly arousing – must touch you, or I will die – narrative. I did also feel that an experienced combat SAS soldier, no matter how attracted, would be able to keep his focus a little better than Nat does at some points.
However, I enjoyed this novel, and the writing whilst militaristic was no barrier to feeling a connection to the characters, whom I liked and cared about. It is war so there is violence, but it is never over the top nor insultingly totally skimmed over. There is a twist that I did not see coming, and the epilogue gives the reader a realistic happy conclusion.
All in all, Between Ghosts is a good “romance under difficult circumstances” story, and I shall look out for more by this author.