Adrian Magson is the author of 20 crime and spy thrillers, including the Harry Tate series, the Lucas Rocco series and the Marc Portman series. His latest books are ‘The Locker’ (Midnight Ink - Feb 2016) the first in a new thriller series, and ‘Hard Cover’ (Severn House - March 2016), the third of his Marc Portman novels.
"Since 9/11 the door between the pilots and passengers on an airliner must be locked and impossible to break down. But what if the pilots are dead?”
Thus reads the book blurb, and introduces all air travellers to their worst possible nightmare. Terrorists have managed to kill the pilots of a plane with over 300 passengers on board… among them three tough as nails former British soldiers. So far so scary.
But this is no print re-run of a Bruce Willis or Harrison Ford film (to name two examples). Charlie Charters is cleverer than this, and this scenario is only a relatively small part of this riveting book. Because one of the ex-soldiers has an interesting story which leads up to the terrifying flight.
Enter one of the more quietly convincing female toughies, in the form of Tristie Merritt, special forces trained and highly respected, but invalided out of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (formerly known as ‘the Det’). Appalled by the poor treatment of wounded soldiers, and the way people in power are siphoning off MOD money for their own ends, she decides to rectify matters and steals a secret so sensitive that it will force the government to hand over a huge amount of money to veterans’ charities, to make up for the deficiency. To do this she gathers together a band of other former soldiers to help her, and calls them Ward 13 – the place where wounded military personnel are treated.
But Islamic terrorists are also planning their next move, and one Intelligence operator in particular starts picking up signals of something big in the wind. The man involved, who has a nose for trouble, is Islamabad CIA station chief Bill Lamayette, overweight, loud and opinionated. He hears rumours about something called Operation Mosquito and Qissa Khawani.
Unfortunately, his superiors think he’s a spanner short of a full set, and aren’t interested, so he has to go and find out for himself, risking life and limb by going undercover in bandit country.
The two strands of the story come together when Tristie and her colleagues board a plane from Manchester, and Lamayette finally discovers that Operation Mosquito involves that same plane… which is heading for New York.
To tell any more would be to spoil a great story. But this book brings together everything: spies, self-serving bureaucrats, terrorists, soldiers, a hijack… and a whole host of information about airport and airline security, as well as some very well observed characters from as far apart as the White House, through Whitehall, to those on the ground in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.
I kept expecting this story to go one way, only to have to go another each time. It interweaves skilfully the various characters of spies, their masters, of soldiers, of pilots and of terrorists, and throws up some truly memorable ones along the way (quite apart from the main players). Bill Lamayette the loud, pushy but ultimately triumphant CIA chief in particular, leaps right off the page, as does ‘Noppy’ (No Oil Painting) Devane, the equally pushy MI5 officer who earns herself a place in fiction history for telling a dithering, nose-picking US President to ‘shut the f*** up!
I loved it.