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John Baker

Orion £16.99/£9.99 (hardback/trade paperback)

Reviewed by Mike Jecks

It is some while since I read John Baker’s excellent Walking With Ghosts, and it was with some interest that I picked up his latest thriller. I really wanted to see how well he was writing now.

Perhaps I should preface this with explaining that I was about to embark on a major building project that was going to cost me my house for over a week. In fact, this review is being typed in a different house simply because I daren’t leave the machine in such a dusty environment. When I picked up John’s book, I wasn’t just hoping for a distraction. I desperately needed a release from the reality of builders!

It worked. This is a taut story, well told, and it diverted me completely for a few blissful hours.

Sam Turner, John’s private eye hero, is first saddened to hear of the death of a wife, but violence is not an uncommon feature of modern life. His only reaction initially is one of concern that she should have died while he happened to be in the near vicinity. Sadly, not only Sam is aware of this fact: his ex-wife’s lover, who is devastated by her loss, is all too quickly on Sam’s trail. It is only when another of Sam’s early lovers dies, while Sam is in the same street after being called to a fictitious meeting, that Sam realises that a serial killer is after him. This killer is desperate to punish Sam, and he wants to do so in such a way that will lead to Sam’s death at the same time as leaving the police convinced that Sam was guilty of the murders.

I should qualify my description of this as a thriller. This isn’t an American style novel, nor a typical crime novel. There is no surprise about the identity of the killer, but only a ‘Whydunnit?’ question to be resolved.

As always, John has constructed convincing characters and confronted the poor devils with some revolting situations. Sam Turner is strong, believable and mostly likeable. Even his faults tend to fall into the category of eccentricities.

There are some edges which I think could be smoothed. John is a writer with a strong social awareness, and this doesn’t so much creep into his books so much as hit the reader like a sledgehammer every few pages. The politically correct comments can grow wearing, especially the eloquence of some characters whose education and interests seem unsuited to their vocabulary.

However, none of that distracts from the quality of the plot and the interest of the story. This is a great read, and it confirms John in his position as one of the best modern-day writers. I’d recommend it.