This is an intriguing thriller from a former Met Police counter terror cop. David worked on the investigation into the 7/7 bombings and uses this as the starting block for his novel.
The main character, DI Jake Flannagan, is a maverick cop with a failed marriage and a fondness for the drink. This might not sound unusual; plenty of crime fiction protagonists could fit such a description, but the author imbues Flannagan with a pitiful self-loathing that at times is difficult to read. For Flannagan doesn’t just drink, he also tends to end up in bed with random women he’s met in bars and clubs, meaningless cold sex which send him into spirals of guilt.
The maverick element of DI Flannagan’s character is also differentiated from the usual tropes of crime fiction by the author’s knowledge of UK police procedure. Too often in crime fiction, the hero or heroine singlehandedly saves the day; the rest of the police force/security or intelligence services, seemingly sitting around without a clue. The author deftly avoids this mistake by grounding his protagonist’s actions within a solid bedrock of real police work. So we’re introduced to the HOLMES computer system and the various investigative actions that it tasks the investigations teams to do. While Flannagan does go off and do his own thing, he does so within the confines of the wider investigation, a much more realistic proposition that one finds in many novels of this kind.
While the novel is fiction, a fascinating element is what I suspect to be it’s factual basis. For example the tension between the Security Service, better known as MI5, and the police. Flannagan bemoans the Security Service for keeping information to themselves and for throwing money at informants regardless of performance; the police apparently only paying when an informant provides information, rather than keeping them on retainer. This chimes with other accounts I’ve read of the relationship between the two services. Then there are elements that are simply fascinating and a real eye-opener. Who knew, for example, that the Blackheath Tea Hut is renowned amongst gangland as being a place where, thanks to the flat topography, police surveillance can easily be spotted?
Returning to the plot of the novel itself, and without giving spoilers, the story revolves around who organised the London bombings and why. Was it al Qaeda or was there some unexpected hidden hand? It might be tempting to dismiss such thoughts as conspiracy theory, but again, without giving away spoilers, this is no Dan Brownesque illuminati/freemason nonsense. Rather the novel suggests some frighteningly plausible and intriguing possibilities.
All in all this is a brilliant novel and an assured debut. My only fear is that having tackled 7/7, the case the author worked on in his police career, he’ll feel that he’s got the writing bug out of his system and put away the word processor. I hope not because I would love to meet DI Flannagan again.