A Financial Times reviewer once said Gerald Seymour writes the ‘most intelligent’ thrillers in the genre. He certainly brings a wealth of knowledge to his international intrigues, betraying his early career as an ITN reporter covering everything from the Great Train Robbery to the Munich Olympics massacre.
His storytelling is imbued with detail and insight on everything from how Germans use the term Unbestechlicher to the gory fallout from a Calabrian mob faida, or feud. And it is this network, the ’Ndrangheta, that is the chief subject of No Mortal Thing. I found this a far more engaging Seymour thriller than the last one I read, The Corporal’s Wife.
Jago Browne is an East Ender made good, working at a Berlin bank for exclusive clients. When he witnesses Marcantonio, grandson of Bernardo, Calabrian man of honour, committing a vicious assault on a pizzeria owner and his sister, he feels compelled to act. Reporting the incident to the police gets him nowhere, so he decides to throw in his fabulous job and go to Calabria to somehow – he isn’t sure how, exactly – confront the monstrous Marcantonio.
The Englishman has his reasons, but this is still a mightily far-fetched part of the story. The other problem is that, for a thriller, the pace is often stuck in first gear. The detail is rich but can slow the narrative, and there are many storylines and characters entering and leaving the action. In addition to Jago, Marcantonio and Bernardo to keep up with, there is Bernardo’s family; Ciccio and Fabio, the surveillance cops trying to locate Bernardo (hiding in a bunker on the family estate); anti-mob campaigner Consolata; Berlin cop Fred Seitz; and East End crime boss Ben Horrocks, among others.
The most rewarding element of the tale is certainly the depiction of Bernardo. A respected, brutal family boss, he is haunted and hunted, his sons in jail and his grim life underground an ironic outcome for a mobster at the top of the crime tree.
If you want rip-roaring action on every page, then there are plenty of other slick thrillers around. For a more immersive and richly textured read, Seymour is your man.