Thursday, June 6, 2024

Sparkles and Karim by Dave Moores, reviewed by Michael Joll

(Sparkles and Karim by Dave Moores, 261 pages MiddleroadPublishers. Available from Amazon here.

Buckle up!

Iraq, 2014. Outside the wire, there are three types of people: bag guys, worse guys and victims, doing whatever it takes to survive in a country dominated by ISIS, the dregs of the Muslim world.

It’s a time and a place where you can trust no one unless you have a death wish, where money can buy you a “Get out of jail free” card, but only for so long.

Repeat: Trust no one. If you can buy someone, so can others with a different, competing agenda. Loyalty comes with common blood ahead of everything, but don’t count on it.

Now inject USAF Major Michelle “Sparkles” Wilson and Iraq-born, California-raised Karim Hamid into this human-made cesspool of corruption, betrayal and hatred. Faced with a dishonourable discharge for disobeying orders, a court martial and a jail sentence in an armed forces prison for women, Sparkles chooses to accept a near-impossible CIA mission deep inside Iraq as the lesser of two evils. Her chances of success, which will include her survival? Not good.

Regular army soldier Karim Hamid, recruited by the CIA to penetrate ISIS in Iraq, has a different motive – to rescue Miriam, the girl he left behind as a child in ISIS-controlled Mosul. He, too, feels pressured into accepting the CIA assignment as his best chance of finding her.

Competing agendas and incompatible motives, to say nothing of diametrically opposite personalities, do not make for a cohesive team. Karim’s an immature, impulsive daredevil; Sparkles is a controlling, by-the-book perfectionist. Matches and gasoline somehow have to get along without killing each other.

Text to Karim: Earn my trust, hotshot.

Text to Sparkles: Stop acting like you own the show.

Ahead of them is the imperative to find a stolen consignment of radioactive cesium sufficient to make a dirty bomb that could change the outcome of the ISIS-fuelled insurrection. The CIA wants it.

Author Dave Moores

The man who stole it intends to sell it to buy his way out of Iraq. ISIS wants in on the Weapons of Mass Destruction business. And no one in Washington will want to admit they were careless in relinquishing control of the material or complicity in the implementation or threat of the use of a dirty bomb against the civilian population of their ally.

Behind them is a financially troubled Texas oil company looking to make a killing on energy futures. A dirty bomb exploding in Iraq’s biggest oilfield, rendering it uninhabitable for years, will do just that.

Running parallel is the CIA duo with their own interests and the Pentagon with theirs.

Sparkes and Karim takes the reader on a wild ride through Iraq, mainly in Toyota Hiluxes, the mode of transport favoured by ISIS. Arabic-speaking, Quran-quoting, nominally Christian Karim has spent months inside ISIS and passes himself off easily (sometimes with the help of some serious graft) as an ISIS fighter.

To form a team, if less than a partnership, to survive and give the mission any chance of succeeding, broomstick-up-her-ass, Air Force issue, Sparkles swallows her pride and masquerades as his wife.

Moores’ strength is his ability to bring the reader along with Sparkles and Karim on their stomach-turning rollercoaster ride through atrocities and the ever-present threat of capture, torture, and death. He places the reader firmly behind the wheel of the Hilux as Sparkles and Karnm dodge gunfire, strafing, and bombing.

His vivid descriptions of the towns, cities, and countryside inject life into what would be mere backdrops in the hands of a less gifted writer. His minor characters, never intrusive but always convincing, bring a sense of ever-present menace to the narrative.

The story unfolds over about a week, so there is little time for character development or epiphanies on the road to Damascus. Instead, Moores offers plot twists, hairpin bends, box canyons, and serious, bloody mayhem. Prepare to be blindsided by the unexpected and have your senses assaulted by the visceral cruelty and depravity of what passed for life in Iraq under ISIS in 2014.

Sparkles and Karim provides a terrific and often terrifying read.  

Those of a nervous disposition might prefer Jane Austen. 


Sparkles and Karim by Dave Moores is available at Amazon here.

Michael Joll is a novelist and short story writer with four published novels and two collections of short stories to his credit. His latest novel is “Hacker.” He lives in Brampton with his wife of nearly fifty-five years and an elderly springer spaniel, a retired member of the Toronto Police bomb squad.

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