Back in 2017, I read the first book in a series by James Swallow – introducing us to MI6 agent Marc Dane in Nomad. There are now six books in that series, but I hadn’t realised that Swallow was so prolific – since publishing his first YA steampunk western novel in 2001, he’s written over fifty books, including many tie-in novels for Star Trek, Dr Who and more. But that’s not all, he’s written the narratives for many videogames. Given his output, it’s not surprising that he has a strong work ethic for his writing…
What is your writing process?
I would say, “not as organized as I would like it to be”, although I try my best! On the most basic level, I work an eight-hour, five-day week in my home office, generally setting myself a word-count target for the day depending on the needs of the project, deadlines and so on. I try to be in the chair, hands on keyboard by 9:00am. I don’t wait for my muse to strike, I get in and start writing, generally beginning by re-reading and editing the previous day’s work to get up a head of steam. Once that’s done, I tackle the task of the day. Sometimes that isn’t writing, sometimes it is pure research or meetings, but whatever it is, I treat it as seriously as a regular job.
Swallow’s new book is another new venture for him – a standalone thriller. Airside is set a provincial German airport, a good way from Hamburg. It’s the kind of airport that budget airlines fly to and would call London-Oxford for example if it were in England.
I rather enjoy airports – I don’t mind a couple of hours of people and plane watching with the anticipation of flying to come, but I’ve never been stuck in one ‘airside’ – i.e. through security – overnight. This is what happens to Kevin Tyler when the last flight of the day to London is overbooked and he gets bumped, and the hotel is full. Kevin is an engineer, who had been in Germany to sign the biggest deal of his life to get his new product made – only for the company to dump him. When Colin, his business partner calls him to tell him he’s withdrawing his money too, now bankrupt Kevin’s day hits rock bottom.
Apart from the emptying terminal building, there is a lot more going on airside. There are the myriad corridors underneath the concourse, and the roadways outside leading to the runways, hangars and cargo buildings – including a morgue!
Most passengers flying on commercial airliners had no idea they were sharing their journey with a few of the recently dead in the cargo bay. Pilots would declare the number of ‘souls on board’ their flights before take-off, counting up the passengers and crew. Souls, not bodies. Then, if an aircraft crashed and remains were recovered, there would be an accurate count of who had been alive on departure, and not dead all along.
And how better a way to smuggle things, be it drugs, guns or money, even people, than to slip them inside a coffin. This is one of the rackets that gangster Oleg Gorod runs from the airport, the provincial airport offering a better opportunity to hide in plain sight with a smaller police and security presence. Oleg’s private jet, lives in the hangar nearby, offering him an escape option.
Tonight there’s a big deal going down and Oleg’s gang are all there, run by Sasha. She was trafficked by Oleg and rescued from a potential life of prostitution to become his lieutenant, not that that is a job without risk. Oleg is a seriously scary man, and tonight he’s here, when he doesn’t need to be. Sasha will have her work cut out for her.
So as you may guess, Kevin is going to unwittingly get mixed up in Oleg’s deal, and everything is going to get very dangerous after Kevin finds a bag containing two million Euros in used notes hidden behind a panel in the gents. He can’t resist. Everyone will be looking for him – Oleg – and the man who left the money for him. He has eight hours until the first flight leaves the next morning to hide, he can’t leave the airport now as a huge storm is brewing.
Over 400 pages, but they really zip by, especially once Kevin finds the money. Before that, we do get a lot of angst from him but once things began to take off he comes into his own. The other character that we become invested in is Sasha because of her backstory – that she is beyond tough makes for an interesting insight into how she is treated by all of the men in the gang. She hangs onto being their boss by the skin of her teeth and Oleg demands so much of her.
Add in a side plot involving Kevin’s daughter in New York, and we’re all set for a breakneck and page-turning adventure in which Kevin will have to call on his engineering expertise and utilise everything he’s seen in gangster movies to outwit the gang. Does he get away with the money? Do you want him to? What happens to Oleg, Sasha and the gang? I couldn’t possibly say.
Dare I say it – Airside is a great airport thriller – literally!
Source: Review copy – thank you. Welbeck books, hardback, 415 pages.
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