Samira is an up-and-coming TV journalist, working the nightshift at a major news channel and yearning for greater things. So when she’s offered a trip to the Middle East, with Kris, the station’s brilliant but impetuous star photographer, she leaps at the chance
In the field together, Sami and Kris feel invincible, shining a light into the darkest of corners … except the newsroom, and the rest of the world, doesn’t seem to care as much as they do. Until Kris takes the photograph. With a single image of young Sudanese mother, injured in a raid on her camp, Sami and the genocide in Darfur are catapulted into the limelight. But everything is not as it seems, and the shots taken by Kris reveal something deeper and much darker … something that puts not only their careers but their lives in mortal danger.
Sarah Sultoon brings all her experience as a CNN news executive to bear on this shocking, searingly authentic thriller, which asks immense questions about the world we live in. You’ll never look at a news report in the same way again…
Sarah Sultoon’s debut was a hard hitting belter of a novel so I was really looking forward this one, set in the world of war journalism -something that seems so pertinent right now as I watch Orla Guerrin and Jeremy Bowen on my TV screen, showing us the evidence of what can only be called war crimes in the Ukraine. Having read some of Janine di Giovanna’s writing about covering the genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia and now in Syria, I had a good idea of what the war correspondent’s life looks like. She describes lots of waiting around, mixed with personalities that are driven and easily bored. When you combine that with the things they’ve experienced it can be a potent mix, leading to abuse of drink or drugs in order to cope. It means being shipped off to one of the most dangerous places in the world at a moment’s notice, living on adrenaline and even the risk of being seriously injured, as happened to BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardener. It’s the type of work that can become addictive, ruin relationships and damage health. I saw that dynamic being played out in Sultoon’s novel following hardened correspondent and star of the show Kris, and his producer Samira who is eager and new to the job.
Kris has something of the hero about him, always looking slightly battered and dishevelled, and ready to jump back into the fray before his injuries have healed from the last mission. He’s loud and full of machismo, but this is a surface layer. He does care about the people he’s reporting on and wants to express to the world everything he is seeing in conflict, but it also takes a toll. We see it as he returns home injured, he’s already desperate to get back out there and his mind is barely on his wife, or her concerns about their son and what he understands about his father’s job. Sami is ambitious, stuck on night shifts but lurking around the news room for that elusive shot at an overseas production role. She finds it when Kris saunters back in looking for trouble and there’s news that the American president is making a flying visit to Afghanistan. Kris is up for a quick trip and Sami is in the right place at the right time. He’s quickly impressed by how organised and well researched she is. Even before they reach Afghanistan, Sami is already thinking about the opportunities to land a big story and with Kris on board, she asks to be taken around an Afghan hospital. In the women’s hospital they find the hidden victims of the Taliban, women who have tried self-immolation as a way out of their restricted lives, but only succeeded in creating a world of agonising pain.
Sami and Kris are praised back at home and become a close team, although Sami does feel that no matter what they report, viewers are not waking up and taking notice. It’s all a journalist wants, ‘the shot’, the one that has impact worldwide and changes the way people think about a place, or a war. The one that has people approaching their MP and protesting for change. They find it covering the conflict in in Darfur, Sudan. A shot of a young mother, the victim of a devastating assault by the armed Arab militia the ‘Janjaweed’, one picture representing a dark, genocide lurking just under the surface of what we know. A way to refocus the eyes of the world on a truly terrible and largely forgotten war, crime. The author has a brilliant way of bringing us right into the moment, without long flowery descriptions, such as the way the sheer beauty of Afghanistan is described with its ring of snowy mountains round Kabul. This gives an eternal feel to the place, it is ancient and will stand here long after the war is over and everyone has returned home. In other scenes it’s something as simple as the clean clothing Kris puts on when he returns home; his cargo trousers and a fleece top, always the same. In barely any words it tells us Kris has a ‘uniform’ and that he’s never off duty and won’t be staying for very long. This isn’t an easy read. War is brutal and should be depicted that way. This really shines the spotlight on those supporting staff, the war correspondents are risking their lives of course, but so are their guides and interpreters. It really brought home to me the fear these men must have felt when America withdrew from Afghanistan suddenly and power was back in the hands of the Taliban. Those who’d worked with the foreign correspondents and without who’s help we wouldn’t have known the raw truth of the conflict, were abandoned and turned away from the airport in those chaotic last days for not having the right papers. I often wonder how many of them are alive now. This is urgent, brutal writing and the pace never lets up, giving us a taste of the adrenalin rush for the correspondents and the terrible fear that their families must live with at home. All of them are the emotional casualties of war.
Meet The Author
Sarah Sultoon is a journalist and writer, whose work as an international news executive
at CNN has taken her all over the world, from the seats of power in both Westminster and Washington to the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan. She has extensive experience in conflict zones, winning three Peabody awards for her work on the war in Syria, an Emmy for her contribution to the coverage of Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, and a number of Royal Television Society gongs. As passionate about fiction as nonfiction, she recently completed a Masters of Studies in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge, adding to an undergraduate language degree in French and Spanish, and Masters of Philosophy in History, Film and Television. When not reading or writing she can usually be found somewhere outside, either running, swimming or throwing a ball for her three children and dog while she imagines what might happen if… Her debut thriller The Source is currently in production with Lime Pictures, and was a Capital Crime Book Club pick and a number one bestseller on Kindle.
Published on 28th April 2022 by Orenda Books.