«What's the latest BUZZREP out of Vilnius?»

Prepare to be stunned, shocked and concerned; not by the prospect of a depleted NATO fighting a desperate war in the Baltic states, but by possibly the worst prose style you will ever encounter. 

The Modern War Institute, a military think-tank based at the famous West Point military college in the United States has decided to branch out from the world of wargaming and strategic analysis into the literary sphere.

From the pen of August Cole comes UNDERBELLY (must be written in capitals), a ripping yarn of acronyms, intel and a pub in the Cotswolds where British Army officer Major General Hugh Fessenden, a man with a "sizeable" head, is masterminding a fightback in the Baltic states while trying to eat "two peas, nested in cold mashed potatoes".

There's even a hint of burgeoning romance between Fessenden's toothsome-yet-badass goddaughter, Wendy, inserted into Lithuania with a bunch of killer drones, and Fessenden's dependable deputy, US Colonel Shane Williams.

A particularly nice cameo comes from US airman Andy Gutierrez, who is "buzzing down to his fingernails" with excitement and stimulating, minty chewing gum.

But the real star is GRU assassin Ludmilla Petrovka, a 72-year-old woman who stands just five feet tall and is impeded by her "oversized feet" (a bit like Fessenden's head) who favors thermite bombs over nanoplex charges in most situations.

We won't spoil the ending for you, apart from saying it's basically the same as the end of the movie Independence Day

 

In fairness, the idea of writing complete fiction about the Baltic states in a military vein is at least original (apart from the considerable oeuvre already published by Russian state media), and at one point the story suggests "NATO-produced spoofed Russian social media would come online, which would be crucial for the next step of UNDERBELLY", which leads us to suspect the story itself might be a spoofed NATO response to a Russian disinformation narrative of the unverified report about... oh, whatever, you get the idea. Smoke and mirrors and all that jazz. 

The relentless name-dropping of equipment codes and military slang has a certain charm and parts of the story ring true, particularly the idea of a British Army officer deciding to fight a war from the back room of a pub.

But the idea that Lithuania (of all countries) would be turned against NATO, when it doesn't even have a very large Russian population, is stretching the bounds of credulity well past CS Lewis territory (he also gets a clumsy name-check). 

If nothing else, UNDERBELLY makes a nice companion piece to Richard Shirreff's recently-published War With Russia 2017, which reads more like a shoot-out between Jack Higgins, Jeffrey Archer and a Canon EOS user manual.

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