#BlogTour #BookReview & #GuestPost - #KissesfromNimbus by P.J. 'Red' Riley

Shot at, bombed, imprisoned and arrested for murder. His is the story the establishment doesn’t want you to read.
Captain P. J. “Red” Riley is an ex-SAS soldier who served for eighteen years as an MI6 agent. Riley escaped internment in Chile during the Falklands war during an audacious top-secret attempt to attack the Argentinian mainland. He was imprisoned in the darkness of the Sierra Leonean jungle, and withstood heavy fire in war-torn Beirut and Syria. In 2015, he was arrested for murder but all charges were later dropped. In this searing memoir, Riley reveals the brutal realities of his service, and the truth behind the newspaper headlines featuring some of the most significant events in recent British history. His account provides startling new evidence on the Iraq war, what Tony Blair really knew about Saddam Hussain’s weapons of mass destruction before the allied invasion, and questions the British government’s alleged involvement in the death of Princess Diana. Chaotic, darkly humorous and at times heart-wrenchingly sad, Kisses From Nimbus charts the harrowing real-life experiences of a soldier and spy in the name of Queen and country.

It's my pleasure to be hosting the blog tour for Kisses from Nimbus today, many thanks to the author, publishers and Rachel Gilbey for inviting me to take part, and for my copy of the book received in return for my honest review.
You can read my review below but first I'm honoured to be able to feature a guest post from P.J. 'Red' Riley about his career highlights.


I was not quite fifteen when I skipped taking my General Certificate of Education exams and decided instead that it was time for me to leave school altogether. A few months later I tried to join the Army but was turned away and told to come back when I was old enough to shave. I was seventeen years and six month old, and still barely able to grow anything more than a little fluffy down on my cheeks, when I joined the Regular Army.
My lack of educational qualifications at that time meant that my prospects for promotion were fairly poor, bordering on grim. It wasn't until I became 'friends' with my highly esteemed Commanding Officer's daughter and she fell pregnant, leading to a hastily arranged shotgun wedding, that I decided that I should try to improve my prospects.
I had a desire to become a pilot. The Army were accepting volunteers for flying training but I lacked the academic qualifications even to apply, so I set about, during my spare time, getting them. Within a year I had applied for, and was accepted to join, one of the most difficult courses in the Army. After more than a year of training, which I found to be extremely demanding, I qualified as an Army pilot, albeit with the aid of a little judicious cheating. The highlight of my career, up to that point, was when His Royal Highness Prince Phillip ceremoniously stuck the Army pilot's wings on my chest.


At the age of thirty six I was faced with the prospect of leaving the Army and taking up a nice cushy flying job, or putting myself through, what is widely accepted to be, one of the most gruelling physical tests in the world. Despite doddering towards senility and very much against the advice of everyone around me, I opted for the latter. The chapters in my book covering selection show how my ageing body, and especially my feet, were pushed to the limit. My mind was also tested to the breaking point during the Resistance to Interrogation phase. After reading about it you may well agree that this stage of my career stands out as one of the highlights. 


In 1980 I was a member of the United Kingdom Counter Terrorist team. We trained incessantly to develop techniques to rescue hostages from buildings, planes, buses, trains or ships, constantly improving our methods of operating as new technologies and ideas were introduced. When the Iranian Embassy was taken over by a group of heavily armed terrorists later that year life  took on a different meaning, since this was no longer a part of our training regime but everything was real. Real ammunition was going to be used and real human being were going to be killed. The events of the few days over which the siege lasted are vividly seared into my memory. 


No soldier, especially one in the Special Forces, wants to be left behind to look after the families when a war is declared. I firmly believe that people join the armed forces, not to get well paid or gain a professional qualification but to go to war. I was gutted when the task force set sail towards the South Atlantic and I was not part of it. But it wasn't long before I was on my way via Rio de Janeiro and Santiago de Chile to Tierra Del Fuego to take part in a top secret attack on the Argentinian mainland. War is not easily forgotten. 

Many thanks P.J. - having read Kisses from Nimbus I can understand why you included these in your highlights, although it must have been hard to narrow the choices down with such a varied and long career!

So onto my review, Kisses from Nimbus is a change from the sort of books I usually read and review. However, I do enjoy memoirs and military history so was delighted to be asked to take part in this blog tour.
If this was a work of fiction, I might have criticised it for being unbelievable, for what a life and career P.J. 'Red' Riley has had! However, the book opens with something more personal, the death of his brother, Howard from AIDS in 1990. Although not overtly stated, his love for his brother is clear, perhaps most noticeably when he recalls an incident outside the Terrance Higgins Trust in London when a crowd of protesters waved hate-filled placards and shouted homophobic comments. Howard was deaf but still terrified by this display of hatred, when one particularly aggressive protester moved towards them, spewing his bile, P.J. couldn't help but respond,
'Unlike a brawl or a street fight, Unarmed Combat is taught to soldiers to be used ruthlessly and should only ever be considered as a last resort. Gouging of eyes, snapping of bones and tearing of flesh are all perfectly acceptable means of survival. In this case, I was wrong to use it, but if I had done as I was taught and used a weapon, in that case, a hardback book, then the assailant could have been killed. I suppose I should have apologised to the foul-mouthed spitting protester - but I didn't.'
So with the knowledge that he became a skilled soldier, the book then goes back to when the author first enlisted in the army and follows his incredible career through to his retirement. Throughout the book I was struck by how different Kisses from Nimbus would read had it been written as a work of fiction. Red Riley writes with a very matter of fact style, he never embellishes or builds tension for the sake of it, he is not a writer given to squeezing every last drop of emotion from a scene. It's not emotionless but he does perhaps make light of his feelings at what must have been truly frightening or stressful times. This is not meant as a criticism, rather an observation of the black humour of the military. For instance when on a dangerous mission to follow hijackers with their hostages in Israel, he observes,
'The next few seconds would be crucial. If our charade of pretending to be a bunch of drugged-up hoodlums worked, then we would stick with the procession. If not, then Bruce Springsteen, who was by then hammering our eardrums with his latest rock song, was not the only one who was going to be 'On Fire.'
He is more upfront when recognising his shortcomings, admitting that he wasn't always as good a husband and father as he was a soldier. He also readily admits too that he cheated at certain moments of his training, although technically wrong, you can't help but admire both his ingenuity and self-deprecating humour as he remembers his actions.
Interestingly, the most moving passages come when he is recalling the suffering of other people, his brother's aforementioned illness, his daughter's medical condition, and perhaps most poignantly his meeting with Blossom, a woman he met in Sierra Leone. He learns that Blossom suffered a horrific attack at the hands of RUF rebels, who slaughtered her seven-month-old baby in front of her before horrendously mutilating her face, leaving her unable to speak,
'Now, more than twenty years later, the memory of that gathering in the remote, jungle village overwhelms me with emotion.'
This is not a comprehensive military history, nor despite the blurb perhaps suggesting otherwise is it an exposé. It's a fascinating, very personal memoir of one man's long career that took him from the SAS to MI6. I'm old enough to recall some of the events from the past detailed in this book, having an insider's view of those moments now consigned to history was absolutely riveting. I recommend Kisses from Nimbus to anybody interested to learning a little more about some of the memorable episodes of the 20th century, in a memoir that is honestly and wryly told

Kisses from Nimbus is published through Clink Street Publishing. Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, dates are below.