Baptism by Max Kinnings
Baptism by Max Kinnings (Quercus, 2013) comes to me in the American edition. In the UK, it has been out in the market for some time and the sequel, Sacrifice, is already published. Such are the vagaries of the international publishing scene where there can be quite long delays between the launch of titles in different copyright jurisdictions. There are also problems in that the subject matter of the books may not transfer and find a resonance within the new culture. In Britain, using the widest term to embrace all the people who live in the constituent states, the London underground has an iconic status. Even those who live in the Outer Hebrides and have never been further south than Oban (not to be confused with the brand of sunglasses) have some awareness of the significance of this transport system. Indeed, because it’s embedded in the culture, it’s been a regular target for terrorist attacks, the first major bombing being in 1885. In due course, both the IRA and Islamists planted bombs. Given more than one-hundred years of attacks, Londoners have therefore become somewhat blasé about the continuing threats. Moving across the Atlantic, the recent attack by Al-Qaeda on American soil has sensitised local culture to the reality of its vulnerability to attack. Given this book offers a graphic description of an attack on an underground train network, the US market now has the opportunity to both explore emotional reactions to a home-grown terrorist attack, cf the Boston Marathon bombing, and to deal with the claustrophobia of an attack trapping several hundred in a deep tunnel.
As to the book itself, it’s a fascinating piece of writing on two counts. First as to the prose style: it’s what I might describe as meticulous. This is not in any way a bad quality, but the volume of detail creates a slightly dense text. This is a book that expects readers to take their time to absorb all the information on offer. Second, the structure of the plot is very dynamic. This author has significant experience in film and television. We therefore have very short chapters, each one dealing with just a few minutes of time with shifting points of view. On most occasions, the transition between points of view is consecutive, often just moving the plot forward on a different part of the underground train or in other locations of parallel significance where law enforcement plans its response. However on one or two occasions, there’s a slight reprise where we get the first run through a scene followed by a second person’s response. The overall effect is a very fast-moving narrative. Even though the prose itself invites a measured approach, the plot actually pulls the reader through to the end. For the record, there are spec trailers for a film version of this story: the shorter being at YouTube. These were shown at Cannes 2013 with a view to raising the finance to make the film.
So what’s it about? Ed Mallory is an expert negotiator. On what threatens to be the hottest day of the year in London so far, he’s called to the Underground. A train has unexpectedly stopped in a deep tunnel and the driver is not responding. Although it could just be the driver has fallen ill, no-one wants to take any chances. So the hostage negotiation team is moved into place and armed officers approach the rear of the train. As things warm up, we’re given this officer’s backstory which saw him blinded in only his second negotiation. With some thirteen years of experience since this tragic incident, he’s honed his listening skills. Consequently, he’s now rated as one of the best negotiators in the business. In this instance, however, the textbook approach is not going to work. The terrorists are led by Tommy Denning, a young ex-soldier who’s convinced himself he’s on a mission from God. Since he does not have the usual agenda of demands, Ed Mallory is forced into less than conventional tactics. The result is a fascinating set of relationships. The train driver, George Wakeham, has to deal with Tommy directly. The driver’s wife is on the same train to ensure the driver obeys the instructions given. Ed Mallory has to deal with both his own superior and MI5 while trying to engage Tommy in some discussion, any discussion. Then there are the passengers who slowly come to realise they may have to risk their own lives to escape the situation.
The result is a slightly gonzo thriller yet the fact there are elements which strain credibility all proves part of the fun. So assuming you don’t mind quite a high body count, Baptism proves to be excellent entertainment and well worth reading. I now find myself looking around for the second in the series, if only to see how Ed Mallory manages to keep his job.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.