Tuesday, June 11, 2019


by Andrew Grant
Recommended Ages: 14+

David Trevellyan is minding his own business, to the extent that can ever be said about a Royal Navy intelligence agent on assignment in New York City. He has just finished a job, dined alone and started walking back to his hotel when he spots a dead hobo lying in a pile of garbage. No sooner does he observe that the hobo has been executed by a professional than the police show up and arrest Trevellyan for the crime. They have an anonymous tipster's voice describing him as the guy who done it. Their case is so solid, the English consulate sends a colleague to tell him he's been disavowed. Then FBI agents show up, accusing him of killing five real hobos, besides the fake hobo he found, who is actually an FBI agent. Awkward.

If it seems a bit like the opening act of a Jack Reacher novel, you'll have spotted a family resemblence about which more will be said later. But although Trevellyan is a big, hard, highly capable guy somewhat lacking in teamwork skills (to say nothing of empathy for other people), he is also part of a bigger organization and he spends the better part of this book working alongside the FBI to solve an increasingly alarming series of crimes. At first, it seems like it's just a matter of gangsters hanging fake IDs on dead bums as part of a Social Security scam. Then a link emerges between the victims and a private security company that guards a hospital in post-war Iraq. But finally it proves ever so much bigger than a cover-up for some medical jiggery-pokery.

A team player he is not. In this fast-breaking case, however, it pays to be the guy who charges recklessly forward, rather than dotting all the Is and crossing all the Ts FBI-fashion while the evidence disappears and the bad guys get away. On the other hand, hewing to the naval tradition of "Never mind the maneuvers, just go straight at them" (plausibly if fictionally attributed to Horatio Nelson) has its risky side. Like dealing with a female psychopath who literally castrates any man who disappoints her. Like questioning a suspect whose goons are ordered to kill you if you refuse to be bribed. Like having to choose between stopping a weapon of mass destruction and saving someone you care about, because you can't do both at the same time. At least, if you're a man like Trevellyan, there's always the consolation of getting even.

Part spy thriller, part mystery procedural in which the protagonist blows up all the procedures, part case study of the making of an international action hero – especially during the thematic vignettes that head each chapter – this is a gripping, keep-you-guessing piece of entertainment with a hard-to-forget character at the center. Some of his memories of naval intelligence training and prior assignments would be entertaining enough without the main event, for which they are meant to serve as instructive examples. I especially got a kick out of the bit about an office in France where everybody was obsessed with milk. But there's a kick of another kind at the end of the book – a weapon's recoil – which leaves us free to imagine exactly what Trevellyan will do next. It's one of the tightest, toughest, most disturbing and most daring book endings in my recollection.

This is the first of three David Trevellyan spy thrillers by a British author who happens to be the younger brother of Lee Child. Not to be confused with a New Zealand-based author who goes by the same name, this particular Grant is also the author of three Cooper Devereaux novels (False Positive, False Friend and False Witness), the standalone novel Run, and the Paul McGrath novels Invisible and Too Close to Home. The sequels to this book are titled Die Twice and More Harm Than Good.

1 comment:

Boomer Sooner said...

Great review of a great book!