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Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

Shark Fin Soup by Susan Klaus

November 20, 2014 1 comment

Shark-Fin-Soup-A-Novel-925952-de1b144434251bbaefad

Shark Fin Soup by Susan Klaus (Oceanview Publishing, 2014) is not a book that hides its light under a bushel. It believes in starting out with its message in the title and then relentlessly pushing it through the rest of the book. So here we go with fiction’s equivalent of fantasy ecoterrorism as applied to the habit of many in China and Asia to enjoy soup made solely from the fin of a shark. It might not be so bad if they would eat all the meat (and use the bones for stock), but the exclusivity of their interest means the fish are hunted for their fins and the rest is thrown away. This is waste on an epic scale as these predators are being hunted to extinction. Of course, the rest of the world is relatively indifferent to the fate of sharks. Just as the majority seem unmoved by the number of land animals that are either dying out naturally or being hunted for their valuable qualities, so humans seem not to care too much so long as they have enough to eat at a reasonable price. Of course, if overfishing were to mean the more common species disappeared or climate change inflated to cost of staples like wheat and corn to unaffordable levels, there would be an outcry. But until there’s a direct threat, only a few care.

This leaves activists to carry the burden alone. Many of these people take the view that all fish and animals have an intrinsic value. In Kantian terms, this would create a moral absolute to protect them because their value would be beyond all price, i.e. it would be morally acceptable to damage and destroy property and, in more extreme cases, to injure and kill the humans responsible for the exploitation or destruction of the given fish or animals, or their habitat. This is morality moving beyond mere beliefs, emotions, opinions or dogma. It’s seeking a justification for terrorism that will rank alongside divine law for those of a religious persuasion, or the philosophical analysis that will appeal to the rational. Obviously, this is not the place to debate the merits of such attempts to intellectualise and justify making all classifications of flora and fauna more important than the needs of the human community. However, you will understand that this book is firmly on the side of those who take direct action, including murder. This particular terrorist, the impressively named Christian Roberts, is to be the hero of this book and the author evidently expects readers to approve the outcome of what he does.

Susan Klaus

Susan Klaus

The first third of the book explains the circumstances in which the hero’s wife died and how this has come to motivate him to save the sharks. It also sets up a psychological study of the man who’s essentially depressed, sometimes drunk or high on drugs, and suicidal as a result of losing his wife (and what happened immediately afterwards). In practical terms, this loosens the man’s inhibitions. He no longer cares what happens to him. In this reckless state, he’s quite happy to commit a range of offences from arson, planting explosives, to murder. In this man’s mind, the end of saving the sharks from being hunted into extinction justifies all the means he adopts. Given that he’s a physically attractive man, he breaks the mould of terrorist stereotypes. Adopting the name Captain Nemo, he constructs ever more elaborate plots to disrupt the supply chain and indiscriminately kills diners to deter people from continues to hunt, kill and distribute the fins.

While not denying there’s a certain level of ingenuity to the way in which he achieves his aim, the practical mechanics of each step do rely on being able to find people who will help him, both in carrying out his attacks, and in escaping the consequences. Because this is a series character with a third book presumably already in the works, he emerges from the courtroom at the end without having to face trial and to the cheers of the now supportive citizens of New York. In the next book he has a choice of targets. He could hunt down those who tap baby seals on the head in Canada, or those who cut off the horns of rhinos in Africa, or those who stun and kill cattle in American slaughter houses. There’s no end of cruelties to avenge once you open the door to action against abuses in the food chain. Personally, I think the message gets in the way of the book without seriously evaluating the protagonist’s mental state and deciding whether he’s genuinely motivated by some degree of altruism to protect the sharks or is merely on a personal crusade because he’s enjoying the destruction and death. So, sadly, I find Shark Fin Soup unpalatable as a piece of writing. Worse, it also fails as a piece of propaganda. I might have forgiven the book if it had made out a good argument for preventing the further destruction of endangered species for human food production. But it emotes emptily and fails to construct even a token argument that might convince people to rise up and force lawmakers to enact and enforce strict controls.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

The Prince of Risk by Christopher Reich

The Prince of Risk by Christopher Reich

The Prince of Risk by Christopher Reich (Doubleday, 2013) starts us off with an emergency meeting late Sunday between Edward Astor, chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange, and his friends, Charles Hughes, chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Treasury Secretary Martin Gelman. They decide they must warn the President but, as they cross the White House compound, the limo’s software is highjacked and the Secret Service shoots the vehicle full of holes, believing it and its occupants have become terrorists (intelligence in White House security staff is not required).

 

Bobby Astor has been alienated from his father for years — he got one of these child divorce decrees from a judge to make it legal. So seconds before he dies, Bobby’s father texts the word PALANTIR to his estranged son. Like that’s a subtle form of revenge. The old man was cast aside, so he now tickles the grown man’s curiosity with a code word that’s liable to smash his financial empire and get him killed. Woo hoo! Is that ever revenge from beyond the grave or what! Better still, our hero doesn’t tell the police or FBI he got this inside information. No! He’s thinks he’s a better investigator than the police or the FBI. So what are a few dead bodies left in his wake. He’s the hero and he gets to do hero stuff even though he’s batshit crazy — like the sort of crazy that jumps off a chimney into a swimming pool for a bet crazy. Needless to say, our hero has a heroine ex-wife, Alex Forza. She’s an FBI special agent and she gets to shout at bosses who should know to let her get on with her job and are just so slow they can’t see the wood in the trees shooting up around them. And when they tell her to go home and rest for two days, this is just the provocation she needs to get no sleep for the next week and save America on her own (well, with perhaps a teensy little bit of help from her ex)! Although, when push comes to shove, she’s in there with the enemy, breaking their arms or shooting at them with extreme prejudice intended. She’s one tough cookie which is not what you want when you’re old and have a dickie set of false teeth (BTW in all the decades of my life, I have never heard a Brit actually say “toodles” meaning goodbye — sorry for such an irrelevant thought about some of the language on display in this book).

 Christopher Reich

Christopher Reich

 

So here’s the problem. On the one hand we’ve got one of these high-powered attacks on the financial heart of Western capitalism. To help us poor readers understand how fiendishly clever this diabolical plot is, the author keeps stopping to explain some of the ideas underpinning currency and stock trading, e.g. like the practice of shorting. The author never misses a chance to explain something he thinks we might not understand. The result is cumulatively pages of explanatory exposition which does nothing but slow down the pace of the book. At the other end of the scale, the special one wearing the FBI hat is in watching mode for a band of terrorists. Now get this. A neighbor sees some men unloading crates from a truck and, guess what, these guys had carefully written in cyrillic characters, “These are AK47s and we are terrorists!” on the outside (only joking). Sadly no judge would issue a search warrant based on the smartphone picture the neighbour took. So it falls to our heroine and her sidekick to ask to be invited in. Whereupon this highly-trained operative detects this is not a man from Texas but a “foreigner”. She tells this from the way he talks — pretty cool skills! When she tricks him by saying something in French, our wily terrorist makes a big mistake by replying in the same language! Realising he’s given himself away, this minor villain pulls out a gun and starts shooting — it’s easier just to admit guilt from the outset. Anyway, this killer manages to kill some FBI types before falling in a hail of righteous bullets. In the cellar are an alarming number of crates full of weapons — enough for a small army. Thank God for alert neighbors, their smartphones, and the FBI’s willingness to believe whatever they are told. But what are these bad men going to do with all these guns and an antitank weapon? Is the Mumbai scenario? Have they been listening to Leonard Cohen to plan, first, to take Manhattan and then to take Berlin?

 

Now I don’t want you to get the idea this is a completely brainless book. The central plot idea is not unintelligent. It’s just brainless most of the time as one plot cliché after another is trotted out for us to examine and admire for what it is. Indeed, what this author actually does is take formulaic ideas and elevate them to new heights of inventiveness. And to complete the process, we then have the ultimate coincidence that Bobby’s financial crisis is just a different side of the terrorist coin his ex-wife is investigating. Wow! Is that not a breath-taking turn of events, or what! This leaves our heroine to do a minor piece of globetrotting and there’s a good joke about Paris (which is based on a current real-world location), but all the main action is set in America where the combined terrorist attack is due to take place. As you would expect, the senior ranks of the law enforcement and security agencies are completely ineffective and everyone has to be saved by this husband/wife duo. In other circumstances, this can-do attitude might be inspiring. In this book it’s just absurd.

 

So there you have it. The Prince of Risk is a disaster from start to finish. You should avoid it.

 

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

 

Deadly Echoes by Philip Donlay

March 16, 2014 3 comments

Deadly Echoes 8-6-13 1-page-001

Deadly Echoes by Philip Donlay (Oceanview Publishing, 2014), the fourth novel to feature Donovan Nash, offers me a chance to use a word I can’t remember ever using in a review before. Yes, this is a. . . wait for it. . . a ripsnorting adventure. Now I’m not entirely sure what gas emerges from the rip but, when you snort it, it gives you extraordinary vigour as a reader. Why use the word here? Well, there are times when you read a book and you wonder how the author can make the situation ever bigger and more over the top. Well this book is one possible answer to that question. To give you but one example. In The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare fell back on the then tried and trusted stage direction. If events have been slowing down and you can’t think of anything witty to say, have your characters chased off the stage by a bear. That was guaranteed to produce hilarity and vast applause from the pit audience. Well, in this book, if you’re not paying attention, the confrontation and pursuit involving a bear is almost gone before you have a chance to register it. Yes, the classic Shakespearean device has been relegated to a few lines as our hero fights his way from start to finish.

Does it all depend on “him”? I hear you ask. Well, our hero may be good in the flying, and fighting, and shooting, and the hanging from helicopters, and other stunts you would probably want to ask the stunt double to do should this ever be planned for the cinema. But when it comes to saving the Earth (well, perhaps only Alaska, parts of Canada and a few of the northern US states), you have to turn to his wife. Yes, this is a partnership effort. Although their marriage may be going through a rough patch, what with assassins trying to kill her and their child, she’s the one with the brains. When it comes to seeing the big picture and envisaging how the impossible solution might become possible, she’s the one to get the scenario from the planning stage to the go-decision in the shortest possible time. No, this is not science fiction in the literal sense of the words. Think science possible if you close one eye and squint through the other. Then it all becomes perfectly possible and entirely plausible.

Philip Donlay

Philip Donlay

Did I mention all the shooting and fighting? There’s a high body count by the time we’re finished.

So this book follows on from Zero Separation. This gives me a major advantage because I know who everyone is and how the whole backstory fits together, Had I not read that, I suspect I would be feeling fairly lost and not a little frustrated since this is one of those revenge thrillers in which a figure from our hero’s past re-emerges to a fanfare of bullets and dismemberments. Do I like these people any better than I did the last time around? Well, we’re not given a great deal of time to worry about that because once the action starts, it keeps going at a ferocious pace. But the answer is, “Not really.” Everything that happens in this book is deeply complicated by the threat to disclose our hero’s real identity. Everyone “in the know” has to lie to the CIA, the FBI, Mossad, Interpol and local law enforcement agencies in the US and France. As a hook, the continuous threat for our hero to be revealed is not the most attractive. In other books where our protagonists are living off the grid, there’s usually an explanation to engage our sympathies, to encourage us to root for them as the forces of the law swirl around them. But this lot just want to keep the money and avoid going to jail. Hardly the most laudable of motives no matter how much good they may be doing through their organisation.

This all leaves me feeling somewhat ambivalent. As with the last book, this has a gonzo terrorism climax. In fact, it’s the kind of scenario Hollywood would enjoy doing with full CGI effects. I suppose the extravagance of it all wins me over. This is not just a few punches thrown and an explosion or two. This is non-stop action featuring a lot of flying, something our author knows a lot about. So if you do decide to come on this ride, be prepared for not just a hail of bullets — there’s a positive blizzard blowing through the book. A few are wounded and many die. Some of the deaths would have been quick. Others are designed for their shock value. Deadly Echoes certainly exceeds the average wow factor in terms of thriller plot. If only the lead characters were more likeable, I would be strongly recommending this. As it is, I suggest you read Category Five, the first in the series, to see whether you are hooked by the situation to make you want to read through to this point. If you are sufficiently tuned in and are rooting for these people, this will certainly hold your attention as the pages flash by in full page-turner mode.

For a review of another book in this series by Philip Donlay, see Zero Separation.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

In the Morning I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty

March 3, 2014 2 comments

In the Morning I'll Be Gone, Adrian McKinty

In the Morning I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty (Seventh Street Books, 2014) finds Sean Duffy in the final volume of the trilogy set in The Troubles. He’s been through the wringer of being the wrong-shaped peg in a hole not of his own making. A Catholic serving in the police force is never going to win him friends on either side of the sectarian divide, but he shaded the odds in favour of being unacceptable to everyone by breaking all the rules in solving the cases he’s given and never being prepared to apologise for anything he does. At the end of the last book, he was demoted back to uniform. This puts him at the sharp end of policing and, when he happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, he’s scapegoated and forced to resign the force. This leaves him at a loose end. The trigger for his official revival goes back to September 1983 when a few prisoners broke out of the notorious Maze Prison. It doesn’t take MI5 too long to link our hero with one of the escapees, Dermott McCann. They were at school together and have some “history” as the republican activist and theoretical urban terrorist. The Brits are not going to pass up the chance that the local man can do what they have so obviously failed to do. So Duffy is reinstated into Special Branch to talk with the families and relatives to see whether he can pick up any clues as to where Dermott has gone. At first there’s nothing but hostility, so Sean does what every respectable police officer would do. He beats up a heavy, threatens to shoot a drug pusher and pimp, burns down a newsagents, and rescues one of the McCann clan from a fate worse than death. He asks for no reward which may be why the IRA may later be less unsympathetically inclined towards him.

Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty

The first glimmer of light comes from Mary Fitzpatrick. Dermott married her second daughter and then divorced her when he was taken off into the Maze. A Faustian deal is made. Mary has never believed the death of Lizzie, her youngest daughter, was accidental. If Sean is able to prove to her satisfaction what happened that night, she will tell him where to find Dermott. There’s just one problem. Lizzie was found dead inside a pub that was not only locked but barred from the inside. The police who investigated this locked-room mystery, are convinced the death was an accident. After throwing out the last of the customers, Mary barred the doors, switched off the lights and climbed on top of the bar to change a light bulb. Unfortunately she fell, breaking her neck. The only three people who believe this is problematic are the elderly coroner who did the autopsy, her boyfriend and her mother.

This is a neat authorial trick of piling Pelion on Ossa. When Sean is given something impossible to do, the key to doing it must be the solution of an impossible crime. In this case, the problem is the complete absence of a motive. Although there are always ways in which a locked room situation can be set up, the real question is why anyone would have wanted to produce anything so complicated. The accidental death scenario is so much easier to understand and accept. As is required in books like this, there’s a long wait for the first hint of a motive to emerge, but even then it’s still not obvious why Lizzie should have been targeted. Believe me when I tell you the wait is well and truly worth it. The ultimate explanation of the how and the why of the death are outstanding.

This brings us to the weakest part of the book. By now we’re well into 1984 and those of you alert historians will recall this is the year in which the IRA planted a bomb in the Brighton hotel occupied by Margaret Thatcher. Writing this episode into the book is fair game, but the confrontation between Sean and Dermott is hopelessly contrived. Until I reached this part, I was lining this book up as unlikely to be beaten as the thriller of 2014. It’s such a shame. All the set-up in Northern Ireland and the subsequent investigation of the locked-room mystery is outstanding. Then we have to get the hackneyed ending.

When you put the three books together, The Troubles is one of the best thriller trilogies of the last decade. Despite my being less than enthused by the final confrontation, the quality of the prose remains pitch perfect and the unsentimental dark humour of the people and their political situation make In the Morning I’ll Be Gone a remarkable achievement in producing a plausible outcome for our hero. Incidentally, the next book is a standalone historical mystery called The Sun Is God.

For reviews of other books by Adrian McKinty, see:
The Cold Cold Ground
Falling Glass
I Hear the Sirens in the Street
The Sun Is God.

 

Follow this link for An interview with Adrian McKinty.

 

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

 

The Adjacent by Christopher Priest

February 19, 2014 Leave a comment

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The Adjacent by Christopher Priest (Titan Books, 2013) qualifies as one of the most interesting books of the last year. In part, the interest lies in what the book is not. Ah. . . so now we immediately come to the heart of it. In some senses, this is a story about the nature of relationships rather than a book sitting comfortably in a genre such as science fiction or fantasy. The word selected as the title gives us the theme. When two or more people, places or things are adjacent, they are next to each other, perhaps even sharing a common boundary or border, but they do not overlap. You could pass from one part to its neighbour, e.g. from a city centre to a suburb or, in American terms, a more distant exurb. This gives us a potential paradox to resolve. Two people may be “close”, but no matter how intimately involved they may be, they do not physically become one person. They retain their individual traits and characteristics. Ironically, the law used to proclaim husband and wife were one person for legal purposes. So, for example, spouses could not give evidence against each other or, in some cases, property originally owned by one before marriage fell into the ownership of the other after marriage. Laws create their own fictions or distortions of reality to fulfill their social policy purposes.

When it comes to literary purposes, Christopher Priest is playing a complicated game with us. None of the first- or third-person narrators who feature in this novel are intentionally unreliable. It’s not their fault that they fail to grasp exactly who they are nor what purpose their presence advances. All they can do is tell their stories, believing them to be true, and leave it to us to decide how much of what they say might be true in the context for their contributions. We start off with Tibor Tarent and his wife Melanie. They are in a version of Anatolia, Turkey. He’s a professional photographer and she’s a nurse. In earlier times, their marriage was strong, but their enforced stay inside this medical camp for refugees puts their relationship under pressure. Normally, Tibor displaces his personal problems into the passivity of observing life through the lenses of his cameras. When the dangerous war-torn conditions outside the camp deny him this release, he grows frustrated and angry. She’s endlessly useful to those in need. He’s in the way. Unfortunately, when she leaves the camp, she’s the victim of a terrorist attack with a different type of weapon and disappears. He’s loaded into different forms of transport which carry him back to the Islamic Republic of Great Britain (IRGB). Up to this point, we might have been in our version of reality, but it now seems we’re in an alternate history version of the world in which Arab states rule Europe with Islam as the dominant, but not the exclusive, religion. Or perhaps the different forms of transport with closed windows have carried us into new somewhat Kafkaesque spaces.

Christopher Priest

Christopher Priest

It’s also at this point we become aware of another feature of the narrative structure. The IRGB Government is interested in Tibor because he met with Thijs Rietveld just before the latter committed suicide. This man was a theoretical physicist who discovered the adjacency equations. It was meant to be a defensive system which could divert an incoming missile into an adjacent quantum dimension. Unfortunately, what can be used defensively can also be modified to displace enemies into different dimensions. Having let the technological cat out of the bag, the world now faces attack by anyone with the technical skills to build the weaponised form. This use of “adjacency” randomly pokes holes in space-time. Consequently, everything gets mixed together unpredictably. When we start the story, Tibor has no memory of meeting Thijs. Later the meeting is described in detail and he has the photographs to prove it. Depending on where you stand, walk or fly, you can see buildings or not (watch shells disappear and appear). What happens in one dimension can also be an echo of events in a different dimension. Even more confusingly, Tibor may be able to meet both living and dead versions of himself. So we come back to the problem of what adjacency actually means.

One part of the story is told by a stage illusionist named Tommy Trent who makes a wasted trip to the battlefront in World War I in the company of H G Wells. He’s been asked to advise on whether it’s possible to camouflage an aircraft in flight. Dismissing the use of blue paint to “hide” the craft against a blue sky, he theorises it might be possible to use two or three planes flying close together, using one or, perhaps, two of them to distract the audience on the ground so that the third might effectively become invisible. This is adjacency used to distract attention so that a magic trick can be performed, e.g. using a beautiful and scantily clad assistant to take the eyes of the audience at just the right moment. What makes the sequence of stories interesting is the way they are placed next to each other, i.e. some elements may be distracting our attention. This process becomes all the more fascinating with the diversion into the fictional landscape of the Dream Archipelago to meet one Tomak Tallant who’s also a magician, this time with a rope trick much loved by fakirs. An avatar of Melanie flies a World War II Spitfire into this dimension which just goes to show how malleable the boundaries can be between the different spaces.

So putting all this together, Tibor could passively look through the lens of his camera and see an image of Melanie in relation to himself. Now think of this as a photograph of the street forming the boundary between the city centre and a suburb. He could actively change the image so the street appeared to be six inches or six-hundred miles wide. But changing the image we might see does not change the reality of the relationship between the city and its suburb. They remain in close proximity, divided only by the designation of a street on a map as a border. So people may resonate with each other in their relationship and, no matter whether we’re persuaded to see them as physically close or widely separated, they remain close even though a magic trick might make it appear one had disappeared. The Adjacent is strongly recommended to everyone who enjoys thoughtful fiction.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Dark City by F. Paul Wilson

January 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Dark-City-Repairman-Jack--356160-e87bb8e4ec830c27f840

Dark City by F. Paul Wilson (Tor, 2013) sees the in-filling continue in the Repairman Jack saga. For those of you keeping count, there were the three books dealing with the teen years and then we have the sixteen book series leading up to the revised Nightworld which also concludes the Adversary Cycle. This is the second book in the Early Years Trilogy. This new sequence shows Jack arriving in New York in February 1991, and beginning to establish the basis of the career in which he becomes the Repairman. In Cold City, he consolidates the friendship with Abe, and meets Julio and the Mikulski brothers. There’s excitement as Jack gets involved in an operation to disrupt a child sex abuse ring which leads us into a story with multiple threads.

At this point I need to take one step back and write a few words for those who have not previously encountered Repairman Jack. Here’s a listing of the running order so far: http://www.repairmanjack.com/forum/content.php?157≈ As you can see, this is an epic piece of work and everything is woven together. The characters who appear in this book are fairly constant throughout the series and, for those of you new to the series, the coincidences which save our hero are not coincidences. For example, the “woman” known as Mrs Clevinger plays the guardian angel to save Jack, and on the other side, Drexler is deep in the thick of things to recruit helpers to promote chaos when the “time” comes. In fact, the teen and early years set of books is all part of a major irony which runs throughout the series. From the outset, Jack is a young man in search of himself as an independent person. He wants to live an unremarked life, below the radar. As we find him in this novel, he’s living on cash reserves. He has no social security number, no bank account, and no credit card. He thinks he’s finding his own way yet, unknown to him, he’s being shepherded — “groomed” is not quite the right word because it’s acquired an unfortunate sexual connotation — in a particular direction. If you read this book as a standalone, there will be much you will not understand. Yes, the book has exciting passages but, without a context, I suspect you will struggle to derive any consistent enjoyment. So because the YA books are less than perfect for adult sensibilities, the advice has to be to go back to the true beginning, i.e. Black Wind and The Keep. That way, you get a better understanding what’s happening and why. The only downside to this is that you’re no longer reading a conventional thriller. From the outset, the overarching narrative is a supernatural or horror thriller. If that’s not your thing, it may be a good idea not to start because, as the series gets closer to Year Zero, it grows more obviously supernatural (in the broadest sense of the word because elements of the plot are actually science fiction).

F. Paul Wilson

F. Paul Wilson

For the purposes of this plot, we have the first early planning of terrorist action against the Twin Towers. This is going to use Moslem jihadists to plant a bomb. We get to the 9/11 assault in Ground Zero (secret history stories are great fun). So this episode sees Jack still pursued by the “Dominicans”, Jack changing apartments, buying a new car, and thinking about where his relationship with Cristin might be going, and a second auction set up as a trap. As is required in Repairman novels, there’s quite a high body count. In this case, we’re also into exploring the best response to the sexual abuse of children. Needless to say, this book is not suggesting probation and/or other noncustodial forms of treatment aimed at rehabilitation. It assumes the worst of the men and takes a firm line in punishment. That this also disrupts the plans both of Drexler and the jihadists is an unappreciated side effect.

Since I’ve been reading F. Paul Wilson from the beginning of his writing career, Dark City was a necessary addition to the pile to read. As a fan it does not disappoint. It maintains the usual pace with plenty of incident to entertain on the way to a satisfying climax and a good hook into the final volume in the immediate trilogy.

For all my reviews of books by F. Paul Wilson, see:
Aftershock & Others
Bloodline
By the Sword
The Dark at the End
Dark City
Fatal Error
Ground Zero
Secret Circles
Secret Histories
Secret Vengeance

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Baptism by Max Kinnings

January 7, 2014 1 comment

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.

Max Kinnings

Max Kinnings

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.

For a review of the sequel, see Sacrifice. There’s also an interview with Max Kinnings here.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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