Ian Fleming Meets Ayn Rand

Review by Sean Gabb

Lost Causes
R.H. Nichol
Endeavour Media, London, 2017

If you read The Guardian, if you have an atom of sympathy for the IRA, if you are repelled by descriptions of torture and extreme violence, this may not be the novel for you. I, on the other hand, greatly enjoyed it. The novel bounces along in a blur of killing and moral justifications of killing. It reads as if, after an unlikely romance, Ian Fleming and Ayn Rand had collaborated on a thriller.

John Buchan – not his real name – is a former soldier. He fought in the Rhodesian War and then in the Falklands. He now works as an assassin for a top-secret British intelligence unit called the Mill. The function of this unit is to wipe out anyone whose life is a menace to civilisation. This includes Irish, Basque, Arab and other terrorists. Sadly, its existence has now been revealed, and the usual suspects at the top have barely stopped hyperventilating before ordering its immediate closure. Buchan’s last mission is to go to Mexico to find out who killed one of the Mill’s agents, and what he was trying to communicate in his last telephone message.

This is not the whole plot, but I think it gives some idea of what can be expected. Here is a flavour of the violence:

This time there was no reply. Buchan shrugged, then aiming the Beretta at the Arab’s good knee, he fired again. The joint burst like ripe fruit, spraying blood, bone and cartilage in all directions and Hussein screamed again, his body writhing with the renewed onslaught of pain. Buchan let him writhe, raising the silenced barrel as the screams came to a gradual halt. Hussein was ready to talk now. He knew it and Buchan knew it too. [Part Five, Chapter VI]

What Buchan uncovers in Mexico is beyond anyone’s wildest nightmares. The IRA and its allies are up to something that spells the end of civilisation anywhere in the world. They are no longer after minor gains, like tossing bombs into crowded pubs, or kneecapping random Catholics who refuse to pay their tithes. Speaking from his deathbed, surrounded by explosives primed to go off the moment his heart stops, the head villain explains his philosophy of life:

And the trouble for people like us is that several hundred years ago, people like you began messing around with the status quo. They came up with a new system of individual liberty balanced by things like the rule of law and property rights. And in those places where this new system prevailed, civilization prevailed; and it prevailed because unlike any other system it allowed man to explore his full potential in as natural, as spontaneous, as flexible, as efficient, as human a manner as possible. Because it freed him from his fellow men, depriving them of their spurious claims to his life and to the product of his work. Because it enabled him to fully realize his initiative, industry and resourcefulness; to make his own mistakes and learn from them. And because it worked, it brought peace and prosperity and happiness and all the other things that make a human life worth living. [Part Eight, Chapter I]

Only one man stands in their way. Only one man can save the world from a descent into everlasting night. Can Buchan do his duty to Queen and Country and Mankind?

I suppose I should mention the novel’s main weakness. If I had been tortured for several hours by the IRA, and half-drowned, and drained of half my blood to help with the head villain’s dialysis, and then shot in the shoulder, I might not be up to leading an armed raid on an oil rig.

But is that a weakness? I leave it to you to decide. To be sure, I never fought in the Rhodesian War, and I failed in my endeavour to join the Navy to fight in the Falklands. I am probably not the sort of man the Mill would think of recruiting.

I finished the book wishing that people like Buchan were not long dead, or pushing Zimmer frames about a care home, and that the country had not been taken over by ghastly women, all talking in sing-song voices about “best practice,” or promising that “lessons will be learned.”  I can even put up with his liking for the United States.

I look forward to more of the same from Mr Nichol.


  1. Sounds like a good read. I’ll probably give it a go. Interesting that he choose the name ‘John Buchan’ for the (anti-)hero. Any particular reason for this? I’ve always suspected that the real John Buchan was a spy of some sort, but I have nothing to substantiate it.

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