This is the first novel by Wolstencroft, who’s one of the creators of the BBC drama ‘Spooks’ (known as ‘MI-5’ in the USA, I believe). I’d read positive reviews of the book, and as I’d enjoyed the first couple of series of Spooks (until they’d seemingly been forced to let plots be driven by the need to write various cast members out), I was pleased to get this for 75p in a charity shop.
As you’d expect, it’s a thriller, about two men, Charlie and George, who, at the start of the book, work in a photo developing booth in London. This happy little situation is shaken up quite quickly within fifty pages or so, with some really rather clever twists and gradual revelations about the two men which undermine the expectations which have been built up.
However, once the whole spy and espionage aspect of the book gets going, the constant twists and turns of the plot start to border on laughable, reminding me of Voltaire’s ‘Candide’ in that characters seem incapable of staying dead when seemingly demised. There are also some sequences which I simply couldn’t follow – there’s one in the ladies’ toilet of Oxford Circus tube (does such a place exist? I have my doubts), and another chase in a tube tunnel, where I honestly had no idea what was meant to be going on.
The number of pages devoted to events seem disproportionate too – dozens of pages detailing a trip on the Eurostar (albeit a covert one), but at another point in the book, bam, a new chapter begins and they’re in a totally different country with scant explanation of how they got there. And the plot hinge upon which the whole book moves seems pretty feeble too, and certainly not worth the Security Services creating the mayhem involved in the book.
Finally, there’s one ‘big revelation’ which I found utterly risible, and which, if you don’t want to spoil the book, you can avoid by jumping to the next paragraph. Right, still here ? Okay, brace yourself then, this is it: the two baddies chasing Charlie and George are actually the same person – Rose Willets is Latham. Yes, she apparently is also Latham, a male character, referred to as ‘he’ in the narrative, in spite of the fact that the male pronoun should not apply to a genuinely dispassionate omniscient narrative such as the book purports to take. Quite how she is also meant to be he is never fully (or at least plausibly) explained.
To be fair, Wolstencroft’s writing style is generally quite readable, but the incessant twists of the story undermine the whole thing to the extent that, like Dan Brown’s inexplicably popular bad book, I just kept reading to the end in vaguely awed and appalled fascination – to see what he would come up with next; and not in the sense of being hooked by the tale and concerned about the characters, as they’re pretty much a uniformly unsympathetic bunch.
So, far from recommended, and disappointing after a good start. I got it from a charity shop, as I mentioned, and it’ll be going back to the same place. Here’s hoping they benefit more from selling it again than I did from reading it.