Reviewed by Colin Hewitt
I hadn’t read, or admit, heard of the author Mike Woodhams prior to reading this novel. A little online research told me that he is a London born architect, who emigrated to New Zealand in the 1970’s and his writing is influenced by his extensive travelling. I am making the assumption that this is his first novel.
Within the short book (244 pages) there are three main plot threads. The North Koreans are apparently developing a deadly derivative of smallpox, a Russian built submarine is hijacked and a terrorist organisation plan to attack a major city. Our hero, the cold clinical killer, Frank Ryder, leads a team into North Korea to confirm whether reports that the Korean’s are manufacturing the super-virus are correct.
From the off this novel is very fast paced with each of the threads cleverly converging as the story progresses. With an obvious nod towards Ian Flemming’s Bond, both narrative and dialogue are realistic, however it is always a little too clear to the reader who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. In the world of politics, espionage and counter terrorism the lines are often a little more blurred than implied in this book.
The writing style is quite light which often left me thinking this was a novel aimed at young adults rather than the adult market – in fact, I think with a little editing of language and the removal of a couple of scenes this would be a very good YA novel (there is some, but not much bad language within this book, and Charlie Higson’s recent series of ‘The Enemy’ novels has already set the precedent that YA books no longer need to be bereft of swearing).
If you’re looking for a hard-edged thriller in the style of ‘I Am Pilgrim’ by Terry Hayes (which coincidentally, also involved a smallpox based terrorist plot) or the latest Tom Clancy then maybe this isn’t for you; however I did enjoy this as a quick read to pass time on a recent flight.
On face value this review may appear a little negative, but asked whether I would read another novel by Mr Woodhams my answer would be definite yes. I often find with first time novelists that as they discover their own voice, their second or third books can be much more satisfactory than their first. However if this is to become a series featuring the same characters (there’s no indication of this within the novel, but it wouldn’t surprise me) I would like some of the team to become more likeable and personable, or at least explore their back stories to reveal why they have become the people they are.
RRP: £7.99 (paperback)
Available to buy from Troubador here.