Saturday, 12 November 2016

Wicked Game by Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson, the author, is a former soldier and police officer. His biography doesn’t tell us much about his time in the army, but as a police officer he was “blown off his feet at the London Baltic Exchange bombing in 1993, and one of the first police officers on the scene of the 1982 Regent's Park bombing, Matt was also at the Libyan People's Bureau shooting in 1984 where he escorted his mortally wounded friend and colleague, Yvonne Fletcher, to hospital.” Unsurprisingly after such experiences, he suffered PTSD after retiring, and it was this that started him writing, he began recording his experiences as an aid to recovery. Later he turned this writing into a novel, Wicked Game.

The reason I recount all this is because it explains why Wicked Game is a strange beast to begin with, almost a hybrid. Prologue aside, the first part of the novel deals with Robert Finlay, the protagonist, deciding to join the army, his military service, recruitment to the police and later Royalty Protection. This part of the novel reads like a traditional ex-forces biography and it’s hard to avoid concluding that this part basically recounts the author’s own experiences. But then the novel takes a drastic turn and morphs into a high-octane thriller.

The basic plot of this latter section (approximately the second two thirds of the novel) is that someone, possibly IRA terrorists, is targeting police officers for murder. Most of them are killed in car bombings but some are ambushed in shootings. It soon transpires that the officers concerned are all ex-SAS, but is there another, deeper, link? Were they all also involved in the famous 1980 Iranian Embassy Siege?

Once Wicked Game gets going there are twists and turns aplenty throughout. While the writing is occasionally stilted, particularly the more personal scenes recounting the relationship between the protagonist and his wife, this is all handled with aplomb and the author certainly had me turning the pages. I don’t want to give too much more away, for the author has penned a highly original novel. This is more than the usual special forces thriller about terrorist plots and the fight to stop them. Rather Matt Johnson has come up with a plot that’s highly original and certainly took me by surprise.

While Wicked Game started life as aid to the author’s recovery, I’m pleased to learn that he’s written a sequel which Orenda Books, his publisher will be releasing shortly. I for one look forward to learning what Robert Finlay gets up to next.

4 out of 5 stars.

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