Frank Gardner is one of the BBC's most respected journalists, a foreign correspondent who is now one of the corporation's leading Security Correspondents. He's a regular face on BBC News reporting on terrorism, the intelligence services, the various wars and conflicts in the Middle East. So it was with much interest that I read Crisis, the author's debut novel.
Our protagonist is Luke Carlton, a former SBS soldier now under short term contract to the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). After an MI6 intelligence officer is found stabbed to death in the Colombian jungle, SIS sends Luke out to investigate (as well as his military background, he spent much of his early childhood in the country and speaks fluent Spanish). Luke quickly discovers that Benton (the murdered officer) was onto a lead concerning a meeting between one of the country's most ruthless cartels and a mystery party of South Asian men. Investigating further, and after surviving a run in with the cartel, he discovers ominous warnings of a delivery from North Korea to the cartel, a "gift" for the British whose intelligence services have done so much to thwart the cartel's business. What follows is a heart-in-mouth tale of Luke Carlton's hunt for whatever it is the Cartel wish to deliver to the streets of Britain.
There is much to admire in Gardner's debut novel. While Luke Carlton isn't the most original protagonist, he's effective enough. Supporting characters are well drawn, Luke's colleagues in SIS, such as Sid Khan, the head of Counter-Terrorism, being particularly memorable. Luke's girlfriend Elise, while not particularly central to the plot, is also portrayed well, in particular Gardner shy's away from the trap of making a her a mere damsel in distress when the cartel inevitably comes calling.
With his experience reporting on the Middle East and terrorism, the author could well have played it safe and set his debut novel against such a backdrop. There would be nothing wrong with this of course, and as Crisis is likely to be the first in a recurring series, I would be surprised if Luke didn't tackle such issues in future outings. As it is his first novel deals with international drug cartels and Weapons of Mass Destruction. It makes for a refreshing and memorable angle and the author is to be applauded for the novelty of the plot.
One last point I would praise Frank Gardner for his realistic portrayal of Britain's intelligence agencies, their strengths and limitations. Some authors writing such thrillers portray a world of James Bond super-spies, working for organisations with limitless resources. While Luke Carlton is certainly able, he's not superman, at one point being captured and tortured. Similarly, MI6 has to call upon the greater resources of the American CIA and NSA to get the job done, and liaise with the Colombian security services as well. This makes for a far more real and nuanced portrayal of international relations than appears in many similar works in the genre.
All in all, Frank Gardner's Crisis is a good, solid thriller; it's a great debut and on the strength of this book I look forward to reading any sequels.
4 out of 5 stars.