THROWBACK THURSDAY: REKILL by Ian Kennedy Martin (Pan, 1978)
This tough 1970s thriller has largely slipped from view now, but is well worth hunting down.
Ian Kennedy Martin is a noted British script writer who worked on a number of major television shows, including The Chinese Detective and The Onedin Line, and was the creator of the very popular The Sweeney. He also wrote several novels based on The Sweeney scripts.
In the mid-1970s he announced that he was going to focus on writing fiction and Rekill was his “first attempt at a large canvas novel”.
Rekill is a tough, nasty little thriller, which takes a reasonably straight forward storyline and overlays it with inter-agency manoeuvring and a good deal of betrayal. The story opens with the brutal murder of a former American soldier and his family by Van Dhoc, a Vietcong captain who is seeking revenge for the United States massacre at Da Loc. Dhoc is tracking down the US personnel responsible for the massacre and killing them one by one. The American authorities become aware of Dhoc and his plan and set up a team under the command of Special Forces Colonel John Leeming to stop him. Leeming, with one of the surviving leaders of the massacre in tow, heads to Paris where Dhoc was last seen, and then onto Albania, where Dhoc is hiding out as part of a Chinese military support team. While in the background agents from the CIA and Military Intelligence try to out-manoeuvre each other and contain the fall-out from the Dhoc mission.
Martin moves his story along at a good pace, with the mission to Albania forming the core of the book. There are some neat twists and turns and the book builds to a bloody conclusion and a dark final denouement. The characters are adequate, although Leeming is the only one fleshed out in any detail. The team of Albanian rebels helping Leeming are very believable and there is a sense of credibility to the story, which is aided by Martin’s unadorned style of writing. He keeps his descriptions to the minimum, but they are effective and he provides a good picture of what Albania was like at the time.
There are a couple of mild weak spots. I thought that the supporting cast of generals and planners are poorly described, and all seem the same, which weakens the effect of the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring. Van Dhoc is also not very well described, until the end, and is more of a presence than a character. In the hands of a modern author he would have been developed more and served as a counterpoint to Leeming.
Nevertheless, it is a good taut, tough thriller that will keep you happily engaged.
Four stars out of five.
Hard copies of Rekill are probably difficult to find these days, but it is available on Kindle for a very reasonable price.