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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Kevin Wignall- A Death In Sweden

oRDkfvQySUDan Hendricks is a man in need of a lifeline. A former CIA operative, he is now an agent for hire by foreign powers on the hunt for dangerous fugitives. It’s a lethal world at the best of times, and Dan knows his number is almost up. His next job could be his last—and his next job is his biggest yet.

The target sounds trackable enough: Jacques Fillon, who gave up his life trying to save a fellow passenger following a bus crash in northern Sweden. But the man was something of an enigma in this rural community, and his death exposes his greatest secret: Jacques Fillon never existed at all.

Dan is tasked with uncovering Fillon’s true identity—but can he do so before his own past catches up with him?

I have the ‘dubious’ pleasure of knowing Mr Wignall, so as he thrust a copy of this into my hand with an entirely understated personal dedication…

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how could I refuse to read and review it? And I did indeed ‘quite like it’.

Oh.

That’s not enough really is it?

You want to know more?

Okay.

With its intriguing opening centring on a bus crash in Sweden, Wignall then envelops us in a tale of a deniable CIA operative on the run, with a truly international feel as the story effortlessly pivots across different locations,  and many moments of betrayal and mortal peril. There is a tightness and simplicity to the writing that will utterly suck you in, the evidence of this being that I pretty much read this in one sitting, completely hooked on the pace and plot twists that come at you with an alarming rate. Wignall always demonstrates a heightened sense of the visual in his books, and there is a real screenwriter’s feel to the book throughout, which proves priceless to engaging the reader’s attention. I also liked the host of contradictions that lay within the character of Dan Hendricks himself, a man shaped by the less savoury activities of his professional life as a CIA operative with particularly dark abilities, but who when seeing former associates systematically eliminated to protect some dangerous secrets, exhibits a degree of nobility seemingly at odds with his dispassionate attitude to life and death. This raises some interesting questions on the issue of morality, and thus enables Wignall to raise the book above the normal narrative of a conspiracy thriller. The dialogue is sharp and punchy throughout (again adding to the overall pace of the book) and there’s a more than satisfying quotient of violence as the plot progresses, and the extent of the conspiracy against Hendricks unveils itself.

I quite liked it. Think you will too.

(With thanks to the author for the review copy)

 

 

 

Ryan David Jahn- The Gentle Assassin

jahnAs a confirmed devotee of Ryan David Jahn, was surprised that I did actually miss the release of The Gentle Assassin– slap on the wrists, but delighted to have caught up now! As my previous reviews testify, Jahn unerringly brings a film noirish tinge to his books, with his film-makers eye front and centre, backed up by his powerful and spare prose.

The book focuses on Andrew Combs, whose mother is murdered when he is a child in the early 60‘s, with his father disappearing soon afterwards. Twenty-six years later, Andrew is gunning for revenge, and seeks to track down and murder the man he holds responsible- his father Harry Combs. With Andrew believing his own version of events, his father Harry is a man with far darker secrets accrued from his career with the CIA and his possible involvement in the Kennedy assassination. The net is closing on Harry, not only with his prodigal son, but with those who are trying to extinguish his connection to the tumultuous events of the past. A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues…

I think where Jahn always excels is in his examination of the human condition. In each of his books to date, the plot is always driven by the utterly real examination of the emotions, desires, strengths and failings which fuel our actions and relationships with others. Consequently throughout the book, the narrative pivots between the intense and fluctuating relationship between Andrew and Harry, with a series of imagined asides from both men with what their hearts are telling them to do, being over-ridden by, certainly in Andrew’s case, his moral core. As much as he wants to exact revenge on Harry, their is a still small voice manipulating his bravery and moral integrity, that proves an interesting counterpoint to the very different morality driving his father. These asides also work well for the reader fleshing out the huge amount of anger and resentment that is left partially unsaid, and as a result we are skilfully manipulated into changing our opinions and assumptions of two men as the story gathers pace. Harry in particular, now a mild-mannered bookseller, endlessly attentive to his cherished yet alcoholic wife, Teresa, is an enigma as Jahn takes us back and forth between events in the 60‘s and the present day. Jahn gradually reveals the many layers to Harry’s character, which provide more than one surprise along the way, whilst challenging the reader’s assumptions as to how far Andrew is a man made in his father’s image. It’s clever, unsettling, and Jahn’s manipulation of the usual linear story-arc adds to the reader’s changing viewpoint of these two compelling characters.

Incidentally, The Gentle Assassin opens, and is interspersed with, references to A Study of Assassination, a CIA pamphlet distributed to agents, a useful handbook on the various and most effective ways to dispose of a human being, and the circumstances in which these methods should be deployed. This was more than a bit of an eye-opener on the clinical nature of the professional assassin and gives an additional tension and mirror on Harry’s dark past. Taken in conjunction with the slowly revealed tensions of the unfolding relationship of Harry with his long lost son, Jahn once again neatly constructs a thought provoking and intriguing book, that reaches above and beyond the neat label of thriller, into a fascinating study of the human psyche, and the thorny implications of family loyalty.

Raven reviews: Ryan David Jahn- Acts of Violence, Low Life, The Dispatcher

(I bought this copy of The Gentle Assassin)