GAZELLE IN THE SHADOWS
In the mid 1990s, Elizabeth Booth is a young British college student studying Arabic at Durham University.
With some travel and work already under her belt, she excels at her studies and is sent to Damascus to immerse herself in the language.
Taken aback by the generosity and kindness of the people there, she easy slips into a life in the ancient city. She has friends, her studies, and even a handsome boyfriend.
But things aren’t always what they seem.
Soon, in a world where mistrust and disloyalty are commonplace, Elizabeth finds herself navigating a web of lies, betrayals, and even murder involving MI6, deadly terrorist factions, and the shadowy Syrian secret police.
Michelle was born in Chester, England and grew up in Plymouth, England
She graduated from Durham University with a BA (Hons) in Arabic with Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies.
Michelle worked for the Foreign Office in London in the News Department; then was posted to the British Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen Arab Republic; and was in Yemen during the unification of YAR and PDRY and during the Iraq/Kuwait war.
She travelled to Beirut, Lebanon to research and study in the American University where she translated documents for Dr. Andew Rathmell; and she also freelanced for UNHCR.
Michelle met her husband, then in the US Navy, while she was working in Dubai and moved to America in 1998. She lives with her family in the State of Georgia, which by pure coincidence has the peach as its State symbol!
These days she is a stay-at-home mom, who loves hiking, gardening, and socializing with family and friends.
“My career as an author all began because I wanted my children to know what I had done before my marriage and about the many adventures I had experienced in my life overseas. In addition, many friends encouraged me to write a book about my life because they found it extraordinary. So, my novel was born. The end is fictionalized but many of the chapters are my life and I reckon in total, it is about three quarters true”
This is just a short extract from a lovely Guest Post Michelle wrote for Fiction Books, click here to read more
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“For many years, I have wanted to write this book to leave my legacy for my children as this story is largely based on my life. There are stories in the novel that are entirely true whereas others are fictionalized.
When I traveled to Syria as a Durham student in 1992, I knew very little about the country. Many have asked me how I had the gall to jump on a plane and travel to a country where I did not even have a hotel to arrive at….”
“With my legs bunched up near my chin, I buried my face into my knees and rocked. I smelled the rusty, iron scent of blood on my jeans. Strands of long hair that had been pulled out of my braid after the struggle were sticking to my neck and cheeks, held in place by sweat and blood. I reached up and felt the sore skin around my neck, where my hood had been tied. Welts had formed around my wrists, where the ropes had been. I moaned.
Who are my kidnappers? Could it be Hezbollah? The Syrian Army? Or the South Lebanese Army?
God, please let it not be Hezbollah.”
“The Arab people are known for their friendliness and generosity towards foreigners. I remember once, at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the ambassador told me to never openly admire something that an Arab person had in their possession because they would feel obliged by custom to give it to you even if it meant the world to them”
“In the solitude, I blamed myself for my recklessness. Now, the real consequences of my actions were staring at me. I held tight to the slippery optimism of my own survival. It’s all my fault”
“I thought of John, when he shared with me how hard it was to be an MI6 officer, as many accolades and patriotic missions are never shared, nor even written in the history books. He once told me to tell a truth, but bend it or wrap it with a story, then it’s not so much a lie but artistic license”
“A life of extraordinary stories”
Oh My Goodness! I read this one in a couple of sittings and I seriously didn’t want it to end, although I’m pleased for Elizabeth that it did, because I felt that things could have only gone in one direction eventually and that outcome would not have been good!
This is the latest in an ever-growing genre of books, where there is a delicious blend of fact and fiction, which has me in thrall, but also longing – No! needing, to know just where fact ends and fiction begins. Michelle has an amazing knack of blurring the edges between the two beautifully and she does say in her guest post that the ratio is about 75% fact, 25% fiction. Usually that would be good enough for me, however given the intense and downright frightening nature of this storyline, I can’t even begin to assimilate that 75% of what is documented in these relatively few pages, actually happened to her, although my extensive research hasn’t thrown up any enlightening articles or reference material about events described, which I had hoped it might, just to satisfy my own curiosity. I do hope that any comments and observations I might make, do not in any way diminish Michelle’s undoubtedly horrific personal experiences, as that is the downside to not being able to separate fact from fiction.
Michelle owns this gripping, multi-layered story right from the outset, writing maturely with consummate ease, seasoned authority, confidence, and more importantly, right from the heart. She sets a cracking pace, which never lets up and goes from one heart-stopping moment to the next, without so much as missing a pen-stroke. So much action and emotion is packed into such a short discourse and there isn’t a single wasted word in either the depth and strength of the meaningful dialogue, or the visually descriptive, culturally explicit and wide-ranging narrative.
This is a storyline which has been well constructed, has an all-pervading air of tension, with plenty of depth and texture. The nail biting angst grabbed me right from the first page and never let me go until the very last word was read and I could breathe that long held sigh of relief. Although I had no idea just how bad things were going to get for Elizabeth and a happy ending of any description was by no means a certainty, I had worked out what was going on quite early on in the story, which may have been more of a curse than a blessing. I found myself wanting to physically shake a thoroughly manipulated and duped Elizabeth out of her blinkered stupor, as this is a story I have personally heard so many times before, which is why I was taken on such a unique and individual journey, which often made me physically uncomfortable and deeply troubled. However, hindsight is a wonderful thing and a very young and immature Elizabeth, really is as ‘green as grass’ and so very naive about the ways of the world and the wiles of experienced groomers. A little surprising perhaps, as this trip to the Middle East is not her first and she has previously held down quite a responsible job, in another area within the region. Michelle did have one or two tricks up her sleeve for Elizabeth though and those extra added twists and turns that I never quite saw coming, really ratcheted up the fear factor to another level.
Michelle has also created an emotionally complex cast of characters which definitely fall into two camps. Elizabeth and her friends, who seem ill prepared either emotionally, physically or practically for life in the Middle East, don’t appear to have done any research about the complex where they are going to study, or indeed where they should be lodging during their stay to keep themselves as safe as possible. I can’t believe that any responsible parent would have allowed such a situation to develop, given the ongoing fighting and terrorist activity in the area at that time, and for that reason alone I found it quite difficult to relate to this small, vulnerable group of students, who seem to have little synergy between them and who don’t really believe in looking out for one another. I did also actually feel a little sorrow and sympathy for the local girls in the bordello, who in their own way were just as much a victim of circumstance as Elizabeth herself.
Hussein and his cohorts really are multi-faceted characters you can only hate and loathe and to that extent Michelle really did an excellent job of making them get right under my skin. They were manipulative, played on the vulnerabilities and immaturity of unsuspecting individuals, but particularly females and didn’t think twice about disposing of an asset when it was no longer useful or viable. I was no more enamoured of the ‘diplomats’ (AKA spies and secret service), who were so say on ‘our side’ and who also didn’t think twice about using such a ‘flaky’ individual as Elizabeth to do their bidding, without any real thought or consideration for her safety.
It was only by better luck than judgement that this whole debacle ended without more bloodshed and tears!
Oh! and if, like me, you were intrigued by the seemingly delightful title Michelle chose for the book, pay close attention to the dialogue exchanges between Elizabeth and Hussein. Whilst there may be some modicum of truthful reality surrounding the choice of words, the context in which they were used, made me cringe in abject horror and terror.
A factual account, a fiction story, an espionage thriller which probably sits in both camps, and a work of Middle Eastern cultural heritage, make this one of my favourite reads for the year so far!
A complimentary download of this book for review purposes, was kindly made available by the author via Book Publicity Services and supplied for Kindle
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars!
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