MAJOR CHRIS HUNTER
While Chris Hunter’s previous book – Eight Lives Down – concentrated on his time as a bomb-disposal officer in Iraq, this present volume is a more extended memoir: it takes the story of the former boy-soldier receiving his commission at Sandhurst in 1994 in a journey that concludes in 2010 with Hunter working as a Private Security Contractor (PSC) in Afghanistan.
Hunter’s military career is a story worth telling. Assigned as a young officer to Bosnia, the atrocities he witnessed there eventually led him to want to ‘make a difference’ – by saving lives as an Ammunition Technical Officer (ATO). There he was responsible for defusing bombs in Britain and Northern Ireland. The 2001 attack on the Twin Towers expanded his ATO remit to cover the special threat posed by suicide bombers, and as a member of the elite Alpha Squad he took part in the operation to neutralise the Gloucester shoe-bomber in 2003. He was then posted to Colombia to provide assistance to government bomb-disposal officers, who were then grappling with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) produced by the IRA-trained FARC insurgents.
Following the Coalition forces’ invasion of Iraq it was no surprise to find Hunter assigned to help deal with the proliferation of IEDs then tearing Iraq apart (and it was for this work that he was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal). On his return to Britain he was promoted to a desk job, providing knowledge of the bomb-maker’s black arts to the intelligence and security services – sorely needed after the 2005 July bombings in London. After a final tour of Iraq he resigned from the Army, intending to find a more settled form of employment and to devote more time to his family. But the allure of active service was to prove too strong: in 2008 he joined the ranks of the PSCs and was on his way to Afghanistan.
Extreme Risk is written in the adrenaline-fuelled style of the modern military memoir, with action to the fore, lots of punchy dialogue and the author at the centre of things. It is also an open and frank account of Hunter’s life in the Army. He writes well of the sense of paralysis encountered on first coming under fire and of the effects of PTSD that dogged him after his return from Bosnia. He also acknowledges the compulsive thrill of his calling: the fear of the Long Walk to the explosive device and the supreme satisfaction of rendering it safe. But he has paid a high personal price, as his commitment to the Army and bomb disposal eventually cost him his marriage.
Hunter’s affection for the British Army shines through these pages. He has the greatest respect for his comrades, a respect that thankfully transcends the banalities of cap-badge tribalism. The Army’s robust sense of humour is given full range, and from the many examples he selects for these pages there would be much good material for any jobbing stand-up comedian. But this is a humour that is positioned between matters of life and death, and it is worth remembering that the book is dedicated to seven of his fellow bomb-disposal colleagues – all of whom were killed in the line of duty.
Bantam Press, 368 pages, £17.99 (h/b)
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