Ryan Kaine: On the Rocks by Kerry J Donovan is the second book in the Ryan Kaine series and picks up where On the Run finished. Ideally it’s probably best to read the series in order but there are enough hints at the back story to make this novel work as a standalone. This is also helped by the fact that Kaine is on new territory with a new cast of characters.
Donovan builds the tension from the onset with the use of times and dates as chapter headings which emphasises the fast pace of the novel as the action takes place over a 48 hour period. What’s more the clock is ticking because a teenage boy is in peril and needs to be rescued before the elements take their toll on him.
The injured boy, Martin Princeton, provides the link to On the Run as the end of that novel saw Ryan Kaine pledging to redeem himself for the part he played in the shooting down of a plane which cost 83 lives. Martin’s brother was one of the victims and so Kaine feels duty bound to help him and consequently save his family from yet more heartache. The rescue mission takes him to the Scottish highlands where Martin has seemingly wandered off and become lost or worse.
The change of location injects the story with a renewed energy and the clash of cultures between the English interlopers and the local people provides lots of humour. The English characters, with the exception of Kaine, tend to be authority figures who have little respect for the locals or the difficult conditions that they will have to navigate. One such character is William (Buffalo Bill) Cody, head of an armed response unit who has been relocated from London due to his trigger happy approach.
There are references to characters from the previous novel but they play little part. Kaine is still hoping for a relationship with Lara Orchard who helped him in On the Run. She is being looked after by his friend, William “Rollo” Rollason while DCI Jones is working to clear his name. This novel belongs to the new characters, however, most of whom make up the mountain rescue team.
Iona McTay is a great female character, a tough no-nonsense doctor who goes out of her way to help Kaine. Her brother, Drew McTay, is a red-headed giant of a man with a good heart and strong moral code. Along with Gregor Abercrombie, the team leader, they form the heart of the rescue team and bring humour and warmth to what could otherwise be a harsh, violent, action story. The villains as I said are mostly the authority figures and Donovan offers a stark contrast between effective policing as represented by the officers on the ground simply doing their jobs and the careerists who don’t really care about anything other than how they look in the media and the impact this will have on their careers.
The main character is the eponymous Ryan Kaine, a 43 year old ex military officer. Despite the fact that he is tough and capable – if they were to make a film I envision Jason Statham – Donovan reveals him to be a kind, caring man who tries to do the right thing. He hates hurting people and mourns the loss of life, even if the individual may not deserve it. As he points out, “That’s someone’s son.” Early on in the novel Kaine defends a Sikh couple against a couple of racist thugs which puts him firmly on the right side of morality. Donovan maybe offers a wry political comment as the victim reflects how racism has intensified post Brexit.
Donovan chooses to write his novel in 3rd person which works extremely well as it allows for multiple viewpoints. Although the story is mostly from Kaine’s perspective we also get chapters from the members of the rescue team, Cody and Martin Princeton. This allows the tension to build as Donovan takes advantage of the fact that only Kaine and the reader are aware of his true role in the plane explosion.
I really enjoyed On the Run but I think On the Rocks is even better. Donovan is obviously a talented writer who takes his reader on an intense journey of both action and emotion. He seems to have settled into Ryan Kaine’s story so that the novel flows easily and engages the reader throughout. I can’t recommend this series enough if you enjoy action, adventure with a character who is not perfect but is willing to lay his life on the line for his beliefs.