Greed drove mercenary Mann to 34 years at Black Beach Prison

One aspect that makes a piece of writing worthy of the paper it's written on is the amount of research that goes into it.

With the story of the failed coup in Equatorial Guinea, Roberts has been fabulously meticulous in his research.

Around March 2004 when the story broke about mercenaries caught in a plane laden with arms in Zimbabwe en route to the small east African country to violently effect a regime change, the name Simon Mann fell into public discourse.

This Briton, a former SAS soldier, had acquired a South African passport, thanks to his mother being born here. He was an adventurer who thought highly of ex-mercenaries like Bob Denard and Mad Mike Hoare who, before him, had led coup d'etats in the Comoros and Seychelles respectively.

Mann had his weaknesses - his love for money and a never-say-die attitude that egged him on even when it was clear his mission was destined to fail.

After four years at Chikurubi, the hellhole the Zimbabweans use as a security prison, Mann was extradited to Equatorial Guinea, the playground of Obiang Nguema, one of Africa's longest-serving despots.

While Mann, who recruited no fewer than 70 men for this "project", was motivated by greed to add more zeroes to his already bulging bank balance, western big business was equally guilty - they were after the rich oil deposits Nguema lords over. Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest producer of oil on the African continent.

Mann is serving a hefty 34-year jail term in the nicer part of the infamous Black Beach Prison in Malabo. A large number of the foot soldiers have since been released. Mann and Nick du Toit have been left holding the baby while the likes of Mark Thatcher, who sponsored the mercenaries, paid their way to stay free.