Sacrifice by Max Kinnings
Sacrifice by Max Kinnings (Quercus, 2013) is the second book to feature Ed Mallory, the blind negotiator. After the events described in Baptism, our hero is no longer employed by the police force. No surprise there. He more than amply demonstrated a maverick streak in being prepared not only to ignore standard operating protocols, but also consort with known terrorists to resolve a difficult situation. Such independence of mind elevates him to mythic status in police circles. If this had been set in classical times, the decision to seek the aid of this heroic freelancer would be a mixture of hope he would clean out the Augean Stables, and fear he might loose a thunderbolt or two and incinerate less than worshipful senior officers. So this book finds him called up for the first time since the Incident of the Underground. It’s Christmas Day and no other negotiator is prepared to forego the traditional turkey with all the trimmings. He starts off with a delicate situation. A householder has been all too ready to shoot burglars on sight. So much for the notion of good will to all men over Christmas as one intruder lies dead and another may soon go the same way unless our hero can pull chestnuts out of the fire (but only when they are properly cooked, of course). In part because of the hidebound approach of the senior officer in charge, the negotiation is not as successful as it might have been. This leaves our hero less than whelmed when he’s called to the main course of the day.
The core incident begins with one of the joint operators of an alleged Ponzi Scheme returning to England after a three-month sojourn in Switzerland. The return does not signal a capitulation. He’s decided to return to fight the allegations. This means he, his wife and seventeen-year-old daughter arrive at their home to be welcomed by a hard core of press photographers and three well-prepared security men. However, shortly after they have settled back into their fortress home, the three security men are dead and they are being held hostage by a masked man — the young man delivering their Christmas lunch also proves to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up on the floor beside the family. At the behest of COBRA, the Cabinet Office Briefing Room, which is overseeing what’s immediately seen as a major incident, the original team which handled the Incident of the Underground is put back together. Britain depends on the willingness of financiers to live and work in London. If they are seen to become targets for “terrorists”, this could be bad for the economy. Both military and police resources are therefore quickly on the scene. With the press already camped outside, a media scrum quickly develops.
This makes the line of command difficult to establish. Our hero is now a freelancer so neither fits into the police authority structure nor is he directly accountable to the military. Yet he finds himself at the sharp end of an increasingly unusual negotiation. The perennial problem in this situation is to establish a meaningful dialogue. In ordinary social and commercial circumstances, the process of negotiating is intended to produce a mutually satisfactory outcome, usually a compromise between the two or more interested parties. In hostage and comparable situations, the undeclared purpose of the negotiation is to agree terms for surrender. The lives of the hostages give the criminals a bargaining advantage but if the hostages die, the law enforcement agencies are not exactly going to be pleased and will take swift and effective action to bring the siege to an end. So both sides engage in a form of brinkmanship in which concessions are provoked or offered as inducements. Yet this particular exchange of words does not proceed along conventional lines and it soon appears the point of the exercise may be to make a public spectacle of the disgraced financier and his family. Obviously this does not appeal to media shy COBRA which prefers the SAS to bring a swift end to the unfortunate affair.
With one cheat, the structure of the book follows a strict unity of time in which all the key elements are introduced and then shown interacting to produce a taut and exciting siege and resolution. The authorial problem is how to sustain excitement when the hero is blind and therefore cannot do all the usual things expected of a sighted protagonist. Put simply, there are only a few moments of heroism required when speaking with a hostage-taker on the telephone (for a discussion of disabled protagonists, see Bleed For Me by Michael Robotham). So as in the first novel, he has to move around and prove he’s just as much a threat to the bad guys as an abled protagonist. How this is managed here proves highly innovative and not at all what I had predicted given the preliminary POV chapters. Indeed, the final chapters prove he’s every bit as dangerous to himself (and others) as you might expect. That he survives is a testament to the others in his team, the dedication of the police force at large, and the bravery of the hostages. Perhaps he should be less fascinated by the idea of suicide and more interested in self-preservation.
Whereas Baptism deals with a major set-piece attack on an infrastructure target in a plot that depends on some less usual features, this plays with a slightly more realistic hostage situation which resonates with the current popular hostility towards bankers and other financial moguls. Although less spectacular, I find Sacrifice more compelling because it takes its time to capture and analyse the strengths and weaknesses of all involved. We get inside the heads of everyone involved from the fraudsters to their “innocent” families, the police team, the hostage-taker, and the shadowy people orchestrating the media event (and collecting donations for their political cause). The result is highly readable and strongly recommended.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.