A DENIABLE DEATH by Gerald Seymour (Hodder & Stoughton, £17.99)

If you’ve got the time to be utterly gripped by a book, read A Deniable Death by Gerald Seymour. It’s a masterly unfolding of suspense, releasing the story a tiny bit at a time, gradually building up to an inevitable but unguessable crescendo.

This is fact: the Improvised Explosive Device (IED), known as the roadside bomb, accounts for 80 per cent of British casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is the fiction (though some similar events have happened in reality). MI6 has identified the master bomb-maker, known as the Engineer, and has made plans to have him assassinated. Getting to him is the tricky part, as he lives in a remote corner of southern Iraq, surrounded by marshes and security.

However, luckily for MI6, the Engineer’s wife has a brain tumour, which is beyond the capability of Iraqi medicine. They will be going to the West to seek medical aid — but the when and the where are unknown.

Which is where the Croppies come in. A Crop is a Covert Rural Observational Post: Foxy and Badger are the Croppies chosen for this particular task.

Their task is to set up a hide in the inhospitable marshes, and watch the Engineer — for days on end — without moving a muscle, in the hope that their carefully positioned microphone will pick up a hint of when the Engineer will move, and where, so that he can be ‘taken out’.

Tension in the Crop builds slowly. The two men hate each other: they can’t think why they were put together as a team. Foxy, the older, is chosen for his language skills; Badger, the younger, has long surveillance experience in Northern Ireland.

Close proximity, and all that that entails, with someone you don’t get on with — that’s bad.

Tension in the book builds up slowly as well.

The growing situation in the Crop is intertwined with the other characters in this drama, and we become party to the important aspects of their lives as well. The expat Iraqi doctor in the West who has been ‘asked’ to examine an unnamed patient; the pick-up team, waiting for as long as they can; Foxy’s wife back home, but not on her own; and the regular visitors who line the sad route through Wootton Bassett when the dead are repatriated. And the disassociated men in MI6 and their discussions; the main point is that, if anything goes wrong, the deaths will be completely deniable.

Seymour does an excellent job in creating a slow trail of suspense, which makes this book completely enthralling. Especially because, as in life, you have no idea how it is all going to end.