Two more slightly shorter reviews of recent thriller reads…
The Travelers by Chris Pavone
They don’t come much more multi-layered than this complex thriller, published in March and now available in paperback.
Will Rhodes is an award-winning, globe-trotting journalist – writing features for Travelers, a top travel magazine and travel agency. He and wife Chloe live in a doer-upper house she inherited, but neither earn quite enough to make a dent on making the house perfect for the family they plan. Chloe used to work for Travelers too, but went freelance when Will joined the team so they wouldn’t crowd each other at work. However, all too often, they pass like ships in the night between assignments.
It is while Will is visiting a luxury Argentinian resort that his life changes – and a simple flirtation with a beautiful Australian woman – which he had been strong enough to turn down the first time they met in Paris, ties him into something far beyond an affair. Elle turns out to be a secret agent, and he has been targeted by her organisation.
“Well,” Elle says, “the reality is that it wouldn’t be much for you to do, and it wouldn’t be dangerous. But the results would be meaningful to us.”
In the circles he moves in, Will meets a lot of influential people. With a sex-tape hanging over him, he has to agree to get names, numbers, photos to pass back to his case officer Elle Hardwick. This is just the beginning of an increasingly complex web of agents, lies and danger that Will ends up in. Although he initially believes that Elle is CIA, he becomes increasingly unsure, especially as things are getting increasingly strange at the magazine and at home.
Will really is a classic fish out of water character, who has to learn fast in order to survive. This is an intelligent and smart thriller set in the world of espionage and counter-espionage. One in which, perhaps surprisingly in this day and age of electronic surveillance, trade-craft and footwork prove that they still have a place in the world of spies. The characters are as multi-layered as the labyrinthine plot. It’s a big, thick thriller at 435 pages in hardback, but I enjoyed it a lot. (9/10)
Source: Publisher – thank you.
Chris Pavone, The Travelers (Faber & Faber, 2016) paperback, 656 pages.
* * * * *
1222 by Anne Holt
Translated from the Norwegian by Marlaine Delargy
Irritatingly, 1222 is the eighth book in Holt’s Hanne Wilhelmsen series, but was the first to be translated into English. Anyone, like me, reading this one first – will wish they’d been able to get the measure of Hanne better by reading the previous books. Blind Goddess is the first – and the good news is that it and several others are now available in English, but this is the one I had had on my shelf for too long.
In 1222, there are 269 passengers on a train going north, when it derails at the mouth of a tunnel in one of the most remote parts of its journey. Only the driver dies in the crash, but luckily for the others a short way away is a big hotel complex with a reputation for out of the way luxury.
One of the passengers on board is Hanne Wilhelmsen, a former police investigator who had been paralysed from the waist down in the shoot-out, she had been en route to a clinic in Bergen. Everyone is taken back to the hotel, and found rooms or appartments in the neighbouring blocks. Berit Tverre, the hotel manager, throws open the facilities to them as there is a blizzard coming – the likelihood is that they’ll be snowed in for a couple of days.
Hanne in her wheelchair opts to stay put on the ground floor, she’d injured her leg in the derailment and finds herself striking up a sort of friendship with Dr Marcus Streng, a man of restricted growth, but a big personality who tends to the injured. It turns out that the train was full of groups who knew each other, including various religious groups, a right-wing TV celebrity and a handful of mysterious others including a Muslim couple, a hoodied youth and some rather fierce dogs. There had also been an extra private carriage added to the train and speculation runs rife as to its occupants.
Then there is a murder, and later another … Hanne is reluctantly drawn in to be the observant and quietly prying Miss Marple in what has become a locked room mystery, but I found the climax rather a damp squib and am still confused by it.
Holt’s descriptions of the winteriness bring a real chill to all of the proceedings, which the hotel manager does her best to dispel, but it was Hanne that I couldn’t really warm to. She narrates the entire novel and she is so prickly, wanting to remain aloof, ultra-independent, not looking to join in the speculation. It is with great reluctance that she allows herself to investigate the happenings.
This was more of a miss than a hit for me, but I would like to read the first in the series to get a proper measure of this detective. Oh, and by the way, 1222 refers to the height above sea level of the snowy hotel. (6.5/10)
Source: Own copy.
Anne Holt, 1222 (Corvus, 2010) paperback, 352 pages.