This was different. Here at the Cafe we play at the niche end of the list. I am new to Deaver, and I am new to Colter Shaw, a protagonist unlike any I’ve encountered before – apart from, that is, big brother Russell who plays the perfect foil. Brothers Shaw are confident, assured and professional. They know how to get the job done. Much like Deaver, then. This is fiction with high production values: a swaggering colossus of a novel. It’s a novel that knows it’s a best seller. It’s big. Shirley Bassey would belt out the theme tune, if it had one.
The novel is a corporate and political thriller, pointing fingers at corrupt big business trying to subvert democracy in favour of deregulation, environmental degradation and a chainsaw to workers’ and human rights. It’s in some ways far-fetched but with occasional nods to known controversies. There’s what seemed to me to be a reference to Cambridge Analytica – coincidental I’m sure – and even Tufton Street would blush at the kind of capitalism put forward by those looking to destroy democracy and who invoke the phrase ‘the will of the people’. We’ve heard that one before.
The best story-tellers know how to pace. They know when to bring the action, when to bring the tension and when to give the reader a breather. The first eighty pages go by and not much has happened bar a trip to the library. It’s 200 pages before we really know what is in an old courier bag that everyone’s trying to get hold of. And yet those 200 pages have given us a high-speed, high-energy plot. Throughout all this, you get the idea that Deaver is watching his audience and giving them what they need right now, like a story-teller gathering his listeners around the fireplace for the yarn of yarns. So we learn about the different tacks that you might drop on the road to bust the tyres of someone pursuing you. But we also get levity, as when La Fleur shakes a mobile phone ’as if to see what kind of data would rattle out’.
The brothers Shaw – excellent, rounded characters both – do stuff which, a chapter or so later, is explained to us. There are breadcrumbs and puzzles that intrigue us, and yet nothing is left unexplained, in time. It’s like a series of mini games in one sprawling virtual world. It’s important, this exposition, because the whole point about the Shaws is that they really know their trade. Brought up by a survivalist (and almost, nevertheless, integrated into society), they give us the innocent bystander an insight into surveillance, ballistics, forgery, archery, knife fight technique and gangster etiquette. There’s some beef between survivalist tribes (do you buy loads of ready meals or do you train yourself to hunt and forage?). We find this world believable and fascinating, and even if we didn’t the rollercoaster moves so quickly we couldn’t get off if we wanted to.
There’s a political edge to it but this is both realistic (I guess?) and escapist entertainment of the highest class.
Thanks to HarperCollins for the review copy and to Anne Cater for the invitation to take part in the blog tour.