MARCH MURDERS: SPIES, LIES AND FLAWED COPS BY Gerald Seymour, Lynda La Plante and Tessa Wegert
From the start of his career way back in 1975, with Harry’s Game, Gerald Seymour’s novels have always had a gritty, topical realism to them, and a focus on the foot soldiers of the espionage and crime fighting worlds.
In his latest novel, appropriately called The Foot Soldiers (Hodder & Stoughton), Seymour has assembled a cast of unsung, unflashy foot soldiers, on both sides of the espionage conflict, who become caught up in an unfortunate defection of a low ranked Russian official. The British do not really want the defector, but when the Soviets send a ‘hit team’ after him, they realise that there is a mole in MI6. Cue nondescript Jonas Merrick of MI5, last seen in Seymour’s The Crocodile Hunter, who is called in from his dull caravan holiday and sent to MI6 to work through the list of possible suspects. Jonas may be grey and seemingly harmless, but underneath he is very astute and quite ruthless. As he quietly works through the suspects in London, and violent mayhem breaks out in Denmark, Jonas plans not just to unmask a traitor, but to hit back at the Russians with deadly force. Meanwhile an inexperienced British operative in Moscow has to deal with her own nervous spy.
This is a slow burn of a thriller, that steadily builds its way to a series of well staged climaxes in London, Moscow and a quiet Danish island. The pace may be slow at times, but the tension is high throughout, and as with most of Seymour’s novels, the outcome is never clear until the final moment.
The intricacies, and mundaneness, of policing and spying are well captured and Seymour displays his usual firm grasp of modern geo-politics and internal service rivalries. The cast of characters are superb, and pitch perfect, especially the two experienced contractors charged with guarding the defector and the ageing team of ex-Russian soldiers sent to kill him. The British operative in the Military Attaché’s office in Moscow, who wants out of the spying game and a secondment to bomb disposal, is also very convincing and engaging. At the centre of the novel is the dour, but effective, Jonas Merrick with all his quirks and flaws.
It is a great set of characters, all of whom are the little guys who are called up “when the smelly stuff needs sorting.” As one of them reflects, it is “what we always do. And nothing works without us little people.”
The plotting is precise and interesting, and although the identity of the mole is easy to work out there is enough uncertainty about the storyline to keep it interesting. Regular readers of Seymour’s novels will also enjoy the occasional subtle references to earlier books and the moving cameo by one of his previous characters.
This is my favourite of Seymour’s recent novels and a is very good read with a memorable finale. Four and a half stars out of five!
The Foot Soldiers is available now in Australia and will be released in the United Kingdom on 31 March 2022.
Lynda La Plante is a popular veteran of the British crime writing scene and she can always be relied upon to produce an enjoyable read.
Vanished, (Zaffre, 31 March 2022), is the third book in her series about London DS Jack Warr, and finds the detective initially caught up in a minor matter. Elderly widow Avril Jenkins is apparently being subjected to a series of thefts and stalking by a former lodger, Adam Border. Avril is a difficult person and the case has been passed over from another station. Jack’s boss is keen for the matter to be closed and in his typical manner, Jack investigates her claims by the book. He can’t find anything, but something about the case makes him uneasy and just as he is about to concede defeat, a horrific discovery casts things in a new light.
This is a typically well plotted and convincing novel by Lynda, with plenty of twists and surprises. The story has a good momentum to it and there is a wealth of interesting background detail. The characters are well crafted and Lynda provides nice insights into Jack’s personal life and his struggles at work.
Fans of good British police procedurals will enjoy this one. Jack is an engaging central character and it is easy to settle back and follow his investigation, and enjoy Lynda’s ability to skilfully unfurl an interesting story.
Four stars out of five!
Vanished will be released on 31 March 2022 in Australia and the United Kingdom.
Dead Wind (Severn House) is the third in Tessa Wegert’s series about Senior Investigator Shana Merchant, who is based in the Thousand Islands area of upper New York state.
A body is discovered on an island on the Canadian side of the border and Shana and her fellow investigator, Tim, are sent to investigate any possible connection for them. The body is lying at the foot of a wind turbine and is identified as an American official who was recently found guilty of corruption. There seems to be an environmental element to the killing, but Shana and Tim, also suspect that it may be the work of the serial killer, Blake Bram, who has a personal grudge against Shana.
Dead Wind flows on from the previous two books in the series and Tessa spends a bit of time recapping that detail for newcomers to the series. Once underway the story flows well, and Tessa is very good at creating a good sense of place. The physical descriptions of the Thousand Islands region are evocative and interesting, and Tessa also paints a convincing picture of the local communities and the environmental issues impacting on them. This is also nicely reflected in the cover illustration.
The serial killer aspects may be a little overdone, but overall this is an enjoyable crime yarn with plenty of mystery and an exciting conclusion. It also has a good, strong central female character, who is flawed, but engaging.
A solid 3 and a half to 4 stars out of five!
Dead Wind would seem to be available on kindle in the United Kingdom, but the hardcover edition is not released until 5 April 2022. Australian readers will have to order from overseas.
Thanks to Severn House and NetGalley for a copy of the book for review.