In Baptism author Max Kinnings takes a simple premise – a tube hijacking by Christian fanatics – and really puts it, and the reader, through the wringer.
Using the device of the clock counting down, rather like that Kiefer Sutherland series 24, the story has tension built into it from page one. But the reason this thriller works as a page-turner is that Kinnings is also skilled at developing a large cast of characters while driving the action.
So we get George Wakeham, tube driver, rising for another day at his drab job. He’s wrenched out of his routine on leaving the house, however, when his wife and young children are taken hostage by ex-soldier Tommy Denning and his two accomplices, sister Belle and another former soldier, Simeon.
The messianic Tommy already has blood on his hands, having murdered one of the leaders of a remote religious retreat in Wales where he lived with Belle and Simeon. Now they’re heading to London to carry out Tommy’s psychotic ‘baptism’, trapping 350 Tube passenger hostages from George’s train while flooding the Northern Line to make his point.
We also meet the novel’s unlikely hero, the blind hostage negotiator DCI Ed Mallory, who lost his sight early in his career but whose enhanced remaining senses have helped since then to turn him into a formidable man in a crisis.
All of these characters and others in MI5 and among the train hostages are carefully built, giving the tale multiple, gripping points of view. The story has its convenient implausibilities – such as the brothers from the retreat seeking their own revenge on Tommy – but these are niggles. With skulduggery in MI5 and the hostages descending into anarchy, the story moves with the velocity of a runaway train.
Max Kinnings is Head of Subject in Creative Writing at Brunel University, London, and certainly seems able to do as well as to teach. His second Ed Mallory novel, Sacrifice, is also out this month, while Baptism is being adapted as a movie, and even has its own spectacular trailer. It’s a good taster for the novel – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6RBM6UXP6E – but might put you off the Tube for a while.