murder exchange


Simon Kernick

Bantam Press £12.99 hbk Rel: June 2003

Reviewed by Mike Stotter

My attitude to thrillers is like that of a good whisky. I like to taste all the brands before deciding on the best. I was brought up on Alistair McClean and Ian Fleming so perhaps my expectations are too high. But picking up The Murder Exchange, the follow-up to Kernick's debut The Business of Dying, I began to think. "Yeah, this is good."
It starts off promising, Max Iversson an ex-mercenary, has a gun pointed at his head and his life is ready to implode. How did he get to this stage? The drama is played back to us primarily from two points of view and told in the first person - the kind of juggling trick that Kernick is good at - firstly from Iversson and the ubiquitous police officer in the form of John Gallen. Beginning with a money drop that goes tragically wrong where Iversson acts as security-cum-bodyguard for the low-life criminal Roy Fowler. The latter gets his brains blown out of the back of his head; Iversson dispatches the killer and suddenly he is on the run. It falls to Gallen to trace Iversson and solve the mystery.
With a storyline that nudges the reader off balance with twists and turns aplenty, it would be unfair to retell them here but the sub plots are plausible, the two main characters vying for attention and the reader's sympathies. The cast of villains come straight out of Guy Ritchie movieland. The Holtz family are the north London version of the Richardsons (a criminal family from Sarf London back in the 60s). The essential questions asked are can Max Iversson take them on at their own game and can Gallen get his man? This isn't routine fodder. Kernick has the trick of slipping gears like a Formula One racing driver, and gives us a fast-paced thriller with an assured voice which is deceptively deep but told with economy.