Blog Tour- John Sweeney- Cold- Review

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In the feeble light of a London winter, Joe Tiplady walks his dog in the snow. He is not alone. Two men are tracking him, as is a woman with wolf eyes. Soon Joe will find himself caught in a storm of violence and retribution that he does not yet understand.

Around the world, a chain of events is in motion that will make Joe a priceless target. A retired Soviet general hunts for his missing daughter after a series of brutal murders. A ruthless assassin loses something so precious he will do anything to get it back. And in the mountains of Utah, a brilliant ex-CIA chief wrestles with his religion.

In the shadow of them all lies Zoba, strongman ruler of Russia and puppet-master of the world’s darkest operatives. Can Joe save himself from this dangerous web of power and revenge? Where can he run when there’s nowhere left to hide?

So, eyes down and here we go on the first stop of the Cold blog tour. Welcome aboard to a striking new thriller from intrepid journalist John Sweeney, who neatly uses some of the less savoury characters he’s encountered in his professional career to populate his cast of baddies. That Zoba, for example really reminded me of…er…whatshisname…you know the short Russian guy. But joking aside, I really rather enjoyed this tangential and breathless caper…

Split into three main storylines, and globe trotting from America to Europe, Sweeney weaves a tale of greed, deception and violence, that affords ample opportunity on the part of the author to expose and explore some well known conflicts and acts of dissension by weaving them into the back stories of his main protagonists. This also builds a rapport with us as readers, as we recognise both the more obvious, and sometimes more secretive allusions, to familiar events in history, and the less well documented incidents of corruption within governments or security services, that Sweeney has obviously witnessed. Sweeney consistently puts his characters into the hands of shady forces operating outside of their jurisdiction, causing them, and us as readers, a great deal of chagrin. There is a good use of circumnavigation throughout, and Sweeney places his characters, and thereby drives the plot forward, in his judicious use of a number of locations.

To be fair, I’m not sure that all threads of the story worked completely in symmetry with one another, as some characters seemed forgotten about for prolonged stretches of the book, or there was a certain amount of unexplained serendipity that transported other characters from A to B in the plotline so seamlessly. However, the plot did, for the most part, trot along quite nicely, and I liked Sweeney’s control of pace, ramping up the tension at the optimum moments. Overall, I found the story of Gennady, the retired Soviet general, seeking the truth about his daughter’s death, the most absorbing of the strands, and was genuinely moved and fearful for the resolution of his story as his actions became more desperate. His story also afforded us an opportunity to see inside the socio-political life of Russia a little more which added further interest to his narrative.  I was also quite taken with the quiet stoicism of ex- CIA operative Ezekial ‘Zeke’ Chandler, questioning his Mormonism, and revealing himself as an astute and wily operator when his razor sharp intelligence is called upon to help other characters out of a jam. I was less convinced by the pseudo James Bond pairing of Joe Tiplady, a former terrorist, and the sultry Russian femme fatale Katya Koremedova on the run from one of her particularly nasty compatriots- cue cut-out Russian baddies- and found their story arc slightly less credible overall, with some elastic plotting to push their story onward, and a smattering of slightly clunky dialogue when they are forced into more intimate scenarios. There’s also a couple of thankfully brief, excruciating sex scenes,  with a couple of lines of which made me laugh out loud, (howling like a wolf anyone?) which was probably not the intention, and again the Bond motif loomed large, as 007 always manages to squeeze in a bit of saucy business too. But on the subject of humour there are also some perfectly placed moments of levity and acerbic wit which were genuinely funny, and I also liked the slightly cheesy poetry recitation in the midst of peril. All will become clear.

As I said at the beginning of my review, I did rather enjoy this, and anyone looking for a new thriller with interweaving strands, locations and incisive socio-political comment can not go far wrong with this one. I really quite liked the intermittent naivety of plotting and characterisation,  as there were some real edge of the seat moments packing a proper punch, yet tempered by some interludes of clear sighted consideration of social ills, and other weighty issues. All in all,  an enjoyable thriller.

 

Follow the rest of the blog tour at these excellent sites:

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Matthew Frank- If I Should Die

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When a homeless man walks into Greenwich police station and confesses a killing, it should be the admission that cracks open a murder enquiry. Instead, he stumbles out on to the street and collapses, bleeding from a stab wound he’s attempted to repair himself. The newest member of the Met’s murder investigation team, twenty-five year-old Afghan veteran Joseph Stark, doesn’t believe the man’s story. Yet it becomes clear that Stark and the down-and-out share a connection. And that this could provide the key to unlocking the case. Soon, the young detective and his colleagues are drawn deeper into a dark, disturbing world as dangerous as anything Stark has known on the frontline. And where there’s enough at stake for a man to risk everything . . .

Somewhat belatedly I finally managed to squeeze this debut from Matthew Frank into my reading schedule. As the old adage runs, all good things come to those who wait, as this was truly one of the most well-plotted and compelling crime thrillers I have encountered this year…

What struck me most was how this book could so easily be all things to all men (and women) due to the complexity of the book as a whole. First, it is a socially aware thriller with the story focusing on the random attacks on the homeless community in a corner of London by a group of disaffected and vicious youths from a local sink estate. Frank taps in perfectly to the moral degradation of said youths, drawing a contrasting depiction of those on whom they vent their misguided and sadistic violence. This is particularly emotionally affecting after their attack on an aged homeless war veteran, a man of integrity and honour fallen on hard times, and the casual sadism that their ringleaders exhibit. Set against the isolation of their homeless victim, Frank also really gets to the crux of the manipulation and fearful isolation that certain members of the young gang feel, as their sense of morality begins to kick in, putting them at odds with their manipulative gang leader. There is a huge sense of emotional damage running as a motif through the book generally, and in the experiences and dialogue of the youths, Frank captures this perfectly.

Secondly, it’s a well plotted, linear, police procedural with an assured and likeable cast of characters, which could easily establish this as a series. Frank sets up a team of detectives, that you immediately feel comfortable and emotionally engaged with, and the petty rivalries and jealousies that affect any workplace. With the team being mostly overseen by headstrong and outspoken DS Fran Millhaven, Frank immediately gets a gold star for constructing a female character who is both believable and normal, without the usual emotional baggage that tends to follow these characters around. Her interactions with TDC Joseph Stark in particular are a mixture of spikiness, an almost sisterly affection and then pure exasperation, which gives shades of light and dark to their relationship, providing a strong central base for the plot to pivot around. There is also an extremely strong group of bit players, from those linked to the central investigation, through to the characters we see outside of Stark’s police role, reflecting his former career, and the therapy he is undergoing, giving ballast to this being the first of a series. Frank uses some of these exceptionally well, as a mirror to his main character Stark, and how they and we should perceive him and his emotional and physical vulnerability. It’s very well accomplished.

But more than a socially aware thriller, and police procedural, and this is what impressed me the most, was the depth and characterisation of ex-soldier and TDC Joseph Stark ,which gives Frank an enormous amount of opportunity to give us an insight into the mental and physical turmoil experienced by returning soldiers in the wake of conflict. As the representation of war in fiction is a particular interest of mine (and the subject of my MA) I have read widely in the genre, detailing the experiences that Frank explores here. The depth and clarity with which Frank narrates Stark’s experiences in combat, the journey to recovery and the particular difficulties he experiences in adjusting to civilian life and his return to the police force, is truly compelling. Every nuance of his emotional state, and the frustrations caused by his psychological and physical therapy is captured perfectly, along with the intermittent flashbacks to the harrowing events that he experienced as a soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan. This gives a real emotional third wheel to the overall solidity of the book, and the structure of this within the realm of what could be labelled ostensibly as a police procedural, is powerfully done, and perfectly realised.

As you can no doubt tell, I was incredibly impressed with If I Should Die for many reasons, not least because it avoid well-worn cliches within the genre, was powerfully characterised, and addressed some weighty issues in a believable and engaging way. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Penguin for the ARC)