Sunday, 28 May 2017

Ryan Kaine: On The Run by Kerry J Donovan

Ryan Kaine: On the Run by Kerry J Donovan is an action adventure story, introducing the character of Ryan Kaine in what promises to be an exciting new series. The novel concerns itself with the murky world of arms companies vying for government defence contracts.

The opening is shocking, setting a morally ambiguous tone when Kaine is duped into shooting down a passenger plane and killing 83 people. This act sets in motion a chaotic and violent series of events and leaves Kaine struggling with his own conscience. The pace of the story is break-neck, leaving the reader with barely enough time to draw breath. The speed is emphasised by the way Donovan uses dates to head up his chapters. The whole novel is set over a period of a week. The dates also underscore the military background by creating a precise, report like style.

Despite the action-packed nature of the story Donovan does a great job with characterisation. Multiple viewpoints are used in a 3rd person narrative which allows the reader to get inside the psyche of all the main characters. Ryan Kaine himself is a middle-aged ex-Captain in the Royal Marines, left adrift when government cutbacks led to him being retired from service at 39. I think Donovan does a great job of highlighting a real problem for people who spend a large part of their adult life acquiring skills that are not adaptable to civilian life. Like many ex-service personnel Kaine finds himself drifting through freelance work for not always reputable agencies.

The military aspect of the novel is very convincing. Kaine calls upon former colleagues to help him out and the banter between the men lends an air of authenticity to the story. There is an unspoken code between them and Kaine trusts them with his life. Fans of The DCI Jones Casebook series will enjoy the guest appearance by DCI Jones who Kaine trusts to process the damning information he unearths and it’s probably no coincidence that Jones also has a military background.

It’s gratifying that the female characters in the novel hold their own. Dr Laura Orchard is a military widow and vet who helps Kaine and goes on the run with him. She is capable and resourceful and the blossoming romance between the two of them is the perfect foil for the otherwise stark landscape of the story. My favourite character however is the IT expert, Sabrina Faroukh. Her insight and internal commentary about the people around her show her to be intelligent and spiky. Donovan hints at Sabrina not being who she seems which adds an added layer of mystery.

Regardless of the violence and dark subject matter Donovan uses his villains to inject some humour into his novel. Several of them are psychopathic shadowy figures, creating a sense of almost pantomime villainy that allows the reader to relish the violence that is meted out to them and a guilt-free satisfaction when they get what’s coming to them.

One of the things that I particularly enjoyed about the novel is the fact that Donovan chooses to place a series of extraordinary events within a very ordinary setting. The story begins in the seaside towns of Cleethorpes and Mablethorpe which makes an intriguing change from the more traditional exotic settings of espionage.

Donovan’s skill as a writer is stamped all over this novel, in both the control he exerts despite the speed of the plot and the way he builds the tension to an almost fever pitch. There is a lot of violence but I didn’t find it gratuitous or excessive.

I really enjoyed this introduction to Ryan Kaine and it would make the perfect holiday read. If you’re looking for escapism with lots of action and adventure then this is one for you. 

Friday, 12 May 2017

Behind Closed Doors by JJ Marsh

Behind Closed Doors by JJ Marsh is an international thriller that revolves around the deaths of unscrupulous businessmen. It’s a well written novel that engages the reader from the offset and keeps us guessing right until the very last page.

The bulk of the novel is set in 2012 when Scotland Yard Detective Beatrice Stubbs is despatched to Switzerland to head up a team of multi-agency staff investigating a spate of seeming suicides amongst the echelons of power and money. It’s a high profile case with the potential to ruffle lots of important feathers. However, Detective Stubbs is nothing if not tenacious and thorough, refusing to take the easy route of accepting the deaths as suicide.

It is Beatrice Stubbs who is the heart of the novel and she makes a compelling protagonist. Middle-aged and frumpy, Beatrice is a refreshing champion for ordinary working women. She is the perfect mix of hard working, courageous and neurotic. I applaud the way that Marsh examines mental health issues through Beatrice who has Bipolar and has regular telephone counselling sessions to keep her afloat.

Beatrice’s Swiss counterpart is the middle-aged, grumpy Karl Kalin who, in his own way, is just as dysfunctional as she is. Their initial encounters are hilariously brusque and prickly but over time a mutual respect develops and by the end a tentative friendship emerges. The rest of the team are made up of experts from throughout Europe. Chris Keese is from Europol, Sabine Tikkenson is an Estonian crime analyst, Conceicao Pereira da Silva is a DNA advisor and Xavier Racine, a young Swiss detective. All of the team are likeable and the procedural police work is offset by hints of the team’s personal lives.

Although the novel is in parts quite dark, there are flashes of humour which prevent it from becoming too heavy. Beatrice for example is a creature of habit whose main concern at taking a job overseas is that she will miss her daily fix of The Archers. Chris Kees is a hapless womaniser whom the reader realises is barking up the wrong tree long before he does.

Marsh makes the most of the setting and her descriptive language is very visual and filmic which is particularly effective. As the team travel around Switzerland and further afield to visit murder scenes, the landscape plays a huge part. Also as the plot involves the world of big business and wealth, the sense of opulence and extravagance is never far away.

There is no doubt at all that Marsh is an accomplished writer and she skilfully navigates the different threads of the story before bringing them together in a successful denouement. A technique that she uses to give background to the murders is to intersperse the ongoing narrative with flashback chapters. In doing this she allows us to get to know the victims and see the murders take place. This adds to the mystery but also slowed the story down somewhat and for me felt a bit intrusive each time my attention was diverted away from the primary story.

I really enjoyed that Marsh uses her story to ask questions about morality and retribution. The victims of the crimes are all despicable people who have caused much harm to others, people who we might say deserve what they get. Marsh explores the corrosive nature of vigilantism however and the fine line between wrongdoer and executioner – does setting ourselves up as judge and jury not lead us into becoming the very people we are trying to punish?

The novel on the whole is a reflection of Beatrice who stresses to her team that it’s the “daily slog of solid police work” that solves cases. The plot builds slowly and with each layer our tense anticipation mounts until by the end we are desperate for answers which Marsh provides in a very satisfactory manner.

I really enjoyed Behind Closed Doors and warmed to Beatrice Stubbs who also features in other JJ Marsh novels. If you like an intelligent police procedural thriller with realistic, down to earth characters then you’ll love this one.