Erik Mackenzie’s fictional short story Stealing from Isis tells of ex-SAS Brit Richard’s adventure in wartorn Northern Iraq. He is hired to locate ancient Persian treasures that have been hidden underground for over a thousand years. His mission takes him deep into ISIS territory, using his drone ‘Hornet’ to recover the treasure and keep it safe. Richard, a self proclaimed ‘action junkie,’ is aided by French comrade Charles, and the Kurdish warriors Diyako and his daughter Jiyan. But the mission is not all it seems, and they are double-crossed.
The story gets off to an interesting start – the reader will feel drawn into the world of risk and duty that Richard has always found exhilarating. The premise of a search for ancient treasures is exciting, as if the mines of King Solomon himself might be about to be revealed. Mackenzie’s evocative description of the priceless loot encourages us to imagine that the adventure will really take off: ‘…golden statues arrayed along the walls…an altar made of gold.’ He also helps us get to know the characters with some believable dialogue between them and a good contrast between the different factions: ISIS fighters, led by the hateful convert Yahya al-Amriki; the determined Jiyan, who puts her life on the line for her people; Richard and Charles, with their ill-fated mission; and the treacherous Hasen, who hoodwinks everyone.
Mackenzie manages to include a lot of detail regarding weapons, which some readers may find interesting. He has also clearly done his research on Zoroastrian gods and Abyssinian statues – and the military knowledge in the story would be hard to refute. It may be that these details are lost in such a short story which does not have time to truly blossom. There are a few separate headings at the beginning, as we find ourselves in different locations – each of these is a good starting point for even more scene-setting. Everything just needed more expansion.
Perhaps the story could have been used as a basis for a full-length novel, so that the details could be used more effectively, and the story itself developed further. It feels a little unclear as to whether this story is an unfinished idea, a commentary on the current situation in the Middle East, or the bare bones of an Indiana Jones-style yarn about lost treasure. The characters and the engaging written style deserve more, and it is a shame that the ending is rushed into an unsatisfactory conclusion. The story is involving, but is cut off at what does not even feel like the halfway point and feels as though it needs more direction.
It is very easy when reading this story to put yourself at the center of the action, so the author certainly succeeds in keeping us on our toes as readers – perhaps that is all he intended to do. An insightful slice of fiction about a desperate situation.