This is only the second Adrian Magson novel I’ve read. Along time ago I read his novel Red Station, the first of his Harry Tate series, but wasn’t massively impressed. It wasn’t that it was a bad novel, just a little slow for a spy thriller. Recently NetGalley hosted Close Quarters, the second in his Marc Portman series, and I opted to give it ago. I have to say that I’m glad that I did.
Close Quarters is incredibly current, set in the on-going conflict between Russian separatists and the Ukrainian Government. The story revolves around Marc Portman, an ex-special forces contractor who specialises in protecting people from afar, being brought in by the CIA to rescue a State Department diplomat who’s under ‘house arrest’ in a hotel in eastern Ukraine. Needles to say, if it were that easy this would be a very short novel indeed. Instead, for reasons I won’t share for risk of divulging spoilers, the plan goes seriously awry.
I do have a couple of issues but they all centre on the same thing. Throughout the book our hero runs into Spetsnaz troops, basically Russia’s equivalent to the SAS. Yet he never seems to have any trouble dispatching them. In one scene, after the armoured truck the Spetsnaz are in crashes into a lake, he drags two of them out and ties them together by their thumbs. And that’s it, job done! I’m sorry; these are either elite special forces or they aren’t. Similarly, after subduing a female sniper (again hardened ex-army) she sits meekly by while he shoots her colleague in a gunfight. She doesn’t try to escape or overpower him when his back is turned or anything.
But these are minor issues in an otherwise good, solid, and gripping thriller. Close Quarters is an action packed thrill of a ride. It’s fast paced and kept me swiping along (I read it on Kindle) at a merry old rate. It would be true to say that I found it hard to put down and read it in two days. The Ukraine is nicely brought to life as a location and the author has clearly researched some tradecraft, referring to agent running, etc. I liked the topicality of the plot, I liked Marc Portman as a character, and I would definitely read more of this series.
I would give it 4 out of 5 stars.