Saturday, 30 November 2013

JJ Ward


The cover stood out for its originality and blandness, but it wouldn't have tempted me to 'look inside' had I been browsing. It looked like a university student's course work.

The title 'Tales of M17' told me just that: tales e.g short  fiction tales of crime or thriller shorts. The small subtitle The Kramski Case inferred the tales would be all on one theme.

The blurb begins with a short excerpt, but it's not productive. The opening sentence is a mouthful and out of context it has no depth. It's cold. A pile of baked beans without buttered toast. The true blurb is better and straight to the point.

The look inside takes us to Cumbria where Jilly, a member of the latest music phenomenon, is climbing out of bed with a guy from a rival band. She can hear the paparazzi outside and we're lead to believe she's worried for herself (because she's been caught with her pants down, so to speak) but the  paparazzi are being assassinated and she's worried that, because of her, someone is going to die. And they do in this great beginning to M17.

When the scene switches to a prison I'm a little bereft but the setting is very visual: He sat at the table, straightened his back and flattened his hands on the Formica surface. Above him a single strip light buzzed and flickered. 'He' is Deputy Commissioner Khrantsov and he's on the point of recruiting prisoner Orlov, who's in for treason, and giving him early release. I'm presuming he's been signed to hunt for the murderers, but that's where the sample ends. Will have to buy the book to find out!

In short, the M17 have brought in three men: British, Jonathan Hartley-Brown, American, Lieutenant Detective Commander David Bronstein, and the newly-released prisoner Orlov from Russia to hunt for the killers who are spanning three countries. I'm expecting a lot of action with gun fire, helicopters and fast cars.

Jonathan Hartley-Brown is a 'posh Brit' and I find it hard to visualise him as a hardened man able to get his hands dirty, on the opposite scale Orlov is 'tough guy' Bruce Willis and I'm instantly routing for him. The American, David Bronstein, seems a lost in the great characterisation of the other two.

I became confused by chapter nine when, seemingly out of the blue, Jonathan Hartley-Brown and Jilly, from the opening chapter, fell in love. One moment he was questioning her over the shooting and next he was inviting her to meet his parents. Another problem I found was that there wasn't always any notice of scene jumps. Usually these are indicated with an asterisk or a blank line but in this Kindle version 
these were sometimes missing.

But I'm being picky, this is an excellent political thriller with a strong story. It may have had too many characters for me to keep tabs, but every character had their place. There were a few shockers, especially when one of my favourite characters died and another was indirectly linked with all the murders. There was also light relief in the eccentric Hartley-Brown family and I laughed out loud when Joy Hartley-Brown said (on discovering her son was gravely injured): "Tell the doctor we're with BUPA."

It's a mixed POV, and other than some absent scene breaks it was a very well-written political thriller and a fast read.

“The reason you’re incredulous, gentlemen,” Ruby Parker went on, “is because you haven’t the faintest conception of how MI5, MI6 and the FBI and CIA now work. Which is good news for us, bad news for the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, not to mention the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure and the Bundesnachrichtendienst. We’ve managed to keep our rivals in the dark for over a decade.” 
“Bravo,” Bronstein said. “Now maybe you could fill us in on what the hell you’re talking about.” He put his hands together. “No disrespect.” 
She sat down. “I won’t bore you with the details. There is no MI5. Not any more. It merged with MI6 nearly a decade ago to create MI7, the result of an initiative to bring intelligence – in the cybernetic sense of the word – into Intelligence. We continue under the MI5, MI6 designation in public for obvious reasons. And because people seem to like it.” “Right,” Bronstein said. 
“We’ve had effective departments of spies in this country since Francis Walsingham in the sixteenth century, Lieutenant Bronstein. The author of Robinson Crusoe was a spy. There was nothing special about MI5 or MI6.” 

When someone starts assassinating paparazzi in three countries, MI7 sits up. Apparently, the killer is none other than Dmitri Vassyli Kramski, retired SVR field-operative and former Kremlin protégé. True, the Cold War is long finished, but everyone knows Vladimir Putin is as unhappy for Russia to play second fiddle on the international stage as even the most strident of his Communist predecessors. In 2010 therefore, East-West relations remain as tortuous as ever. 

Kramski’s trail leads deep into London’s émigré community, forcing his pursuers into conflict with an unknown organisation bent on protecting him. Bit by bit, he begins to look less like a professional assassin and more like someone plotting to scupper the foundations of Western democracy itself. To compound matters, the Russians are as baffled by him as anyone.