Adrian Magson is the author of 19 works of fiction and Write On! - The Writer’s Help Book. His series include the Harry Tate spy thrillers and the Lucas Rocco French police novels. His latest thriller is ‘The Watchman’, the first in a new series featuring protection specialist Marc Portman. The sequel – ‘Close Quarters’ – was out in April 2015.
For professional assassin Nic Caruana, being hired to investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl is easy enough. It’s not a kill job, but he’s street-smart, tough and knows how to find answers to questions, whichever side of the law they might be on.
He’s also accustomed to dealing with clients with questionable backgrounds. Clients like arms dealer Pat Dyer, whose daughter Emma is the missing girl.
What he’s not used to is a woman like Clare, Dyer’s wife. A former model, she’s beautiful, distant, intriguing… and very damaged – presumably by Dyer himself. So what does that say about their teenage daughter’s sudden vanishing act?
It soon becomes very clear to Caruana, however, that he’s not merely dealing with a girl who’s gone off the rails just to show her independence, an act of teen rebellion; something far worse must have happened. This is soon confirmed by a reluctant police contact who admits to the discovery of a young girl’s body. She’s been savagely beaten, raped and shot dead.
Caruana doesn’t fancy the prospect of having to break the news to the unpredictable Pat Dyer… or even less so his wife, whom he considers already broken enough. Sad fact is, Nic finds himself too attracted to her for his own good.
But he has other problems, too, on the personal side: he has a junkie sister who keeps asking for money to feed her habit, semi-estranged parents he sees rarely and a brother fighting in Afghanistan who reminds him too much of his own failures.
Life’s tough for this paid killer. Fortunately, he has a flat mate in the form of Mark Chester, another killer-for-hire, who acts as his wise counsellor and sometime helper when things get really tough.
Doing what he does best, he follows the missing Emma’s movements to her probable point of demise, trawling through a variety of her friends, acquaintances, junkie mates and others, a snake pit of characters who either barely remember her, don’t care or simply aren’t saying for reasons best known to themselves. And all the time he knows that Dyer himself might be out there, exacting whatever form of retribution he considers appropriate.
I won’t give any more away because the people themselves are all part of the mystery. What I will say is that Nic Caruana isn’t merely some kind of Jason Bourne super assassin who goes out and solves the problem by offing all the likely suspects in a burst of gunfire; this story is more subtle than that. Accompanied by his own devils, and with others revolving around him like satellites, it’s soon clear to Nic that the murder of Emma Dyer is not as clear-cut as he had first thought. Neither are his impressions of people (Clare and Pat Dyer, and his police contact, Brinks) as accurate as he would have liked. Although he does finds one colourful flower in an otherwise fairly barren landscape.
This is a brilliant debut thriller - and first of a series - with a strong and varied cast of characters to rival that of any Hollywood movie, each of whom steps off the page with easy realism. It has a storyline that moves relentlessly from mystery to puzzle to revelation in a carefully-paced chase for facts, and the backdrop of Caruana’s own life stops him from being merely a cardboard cut-out gun for hire who solves all problems with a bullet. He’s bad, but not entirely without qualms.
There aren’t many debuts around that I’ve found had this much impact (The Drop by Howard Linskey was one, and in a not dissimilar vein), or that are so effortlessly written, and I wonder where Hanna Jameson got such a mature writing ‘voice’ for one so young (early 20’s).
Give it a try.