Wednesday, 6 July 2016

The Killing Files (The project Trilogy 2) - by Nikki Owen

This is the second in Nikki Owen's trilogy about an autistic doctor, Maria Martinez, and her attempts to escape The Project, an offshoot of MI5. In the first novel (originally titled The Spider in The Corner of the Room and since re-titled Subject 375) we learnt that The Project's task was to cultivate the unique skills, mathematical, logical computational, etc, of gifted autistics in the fight against terror. Martinez had been cultivated since childhood, The Project operating under the guise of a treatment centre. It was a good premise and one which made the first book a compelling read.

The Killing Files picks up where the original ended. Dr Martinez has escaped the clutches of The Project and is hiding out. She is plagued by memories of her time under The Project's sanction however, in particular someone she recalls being led to their death. Needless to say The Project catches up with her and she needs to delve further into the organisation's secrets in order to put a stop to them once and for all.

While I gave the first novel a five-star review, I did express concerns as to whether Owen could stretch the premise to a series and whether credibility might be stretched too far. Unfortunately, while The Killing Files is certainly an entertaining read, I feel some of my concerns have been borne out. As Owen fleshes out the details of the conspiracy various credibility issues that were present, albeit nigglingly so in the original, are brought to the forefront. The Project is an offshoot of MI5, the UK's domestic Security Service, yet it operates globally. Where is MI6, the UK's foreign intelligence service in all this? Where is GCHQ, the cyber/signals intelligence agency? The project itself would be a hugely expensive undertaking, yet anyone with a passing knowledge of the UK's intelligence agencies knows that while their funding is generous by UK standards, their budgets are dwarfed by those of the US and Russia and it is unlikely that they could afford anything so ambitious.

Another issue linked to the above is that the project operates globally and has bases all over the globe (certainly in Spain and Switzerland according to the novel) yet nowhere are the intelligence agencies of these nations hinted at. Are we to believe that they just haven't noticed this activity on their soil? Does the author assume that British Intelligence is so far ahead of these nations agencies that they don't have a clue?

I know this trilogy is not really meant to be from the spy thriller genre as such, more that of the conspiracy thriller. Arguably it's written in such a way as to encourage one to suspend their disbelief. I get that it's not meant to reflect the real world of MI5/British Intelligence. But while I was able to do that while reading the first one, Owen just stretches the concepts too far in The Killing Files and I found suspension snap.

An unrelated but equally galling issue I had was with her treatment of the main character. Apparently The Project have trained as an assassin, with unarmed combat skills, yet throughout the text she's oddly inept at defending herself. Then there's the allies she made in the first novel keep treating her with kid gloves. I get the fact that Dr Martinez has extreme Asperger's, but does she really have to have a panic attack every second page? And do her colleagues really have to ask her whether she's OK every second sentence?

This review may come across as over-harsh and I apologise for that. For all its faults The Killing Files is an enjoyable read. It certainly is worth reading if you enjoyed the first novel. But the author really needs to pull back on some of the fantastical aspects in the final novel, or else explain them or I fear that the promise of the first book might be frittered away.

2 out of 5 stars.

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