here is an debate in the Twittersphere at this time of year about whether Die Hard is, or isn’t a Christmas movie. Maybe there is also a discussion to be had as to whether this latest adventure for Rob Parker’s invincible iron man, Ben Bracken, is a Christmas thriller. Those with young children, or fond memories of their own childhood, will surely recognise the source of the book’s title. Preface it with the words “And stay by my cradle ..” and you should have the answer.
We are in a wintry Manchester. The time is the present. As usual, the giant plastic Santa is hoist by his breeches on the Victorian gothic façade of the town hall, dispensing silent jollity to the shoppers and merry-makers scurrying beneath his furry boots. In Albert Square, homeless men try to find solace in their threadbare coats, wondering where the next coffee, the next Greggs pasty – or the next fix of chemical oblivion – is going to come from.
mong these sad footnotes to the tidings of comfort and joy, Ben Bracken moves, asking questions. The former soldier, imprisoned in nearby Strangeways for something he didn’t do, has escaped and now leads a perilous existence employed by a shadowy government agency who have uses for his particular skillset, which involves an immense capacity for violence and superb fieldcraft honed both in the killing fields of Afghanistan and the mean streets of Britain’s cities.
Bracken has been tasked with investigating the brutal murder of a young undercover police officer working for the National Crime Agency. Executed in front of an audience of drug dealers and sleazeballs, probably pour encourager les autres, DC Mark Kyle may have become too close for comfort to a dangerous new player in the Manchester drug scene. Bracken asks the right questions of the right people, and finds he is being led not towards an organised criminal gang of swarthy Albanian malcontents, but to a group which has it roots much closer to home.
ack in the real world for a moment, we are told by experts that the biggest terrorist threat to our society in Britain comes from right wing extremist organisations. Only a few days ago a number of men – all fans of Hitler, Breivik and other assorted homicidal lunatics – were convicted of planning terrorism via social media. The fictional group which Ben Bracken infiltrates are, however, not pimply twenty-somethings operating out of a bedroom in their mum’s house, but serious players, ex-military and financing their ambitions via the trade in hard drugs. They are well trained, armed with more than just a Facebook account, and they mean business.
The St George Patriots are led by Helen Broadshott. Perhaps modeled on someone across the Channel, she is vivacious, attractive, a brilliant communicator, and someone who knows how to tap into the seam of opinion which has been crystalised by feelings of resentment about immigration, perceived inequality, lack of political representation and frustration about rapid social change. The Patriots are planning a major event which will catapult them from obscurity onto the front pages of the print media, boost their social media following and make them headline news on every TV bulletin.
he irony is, of course, that in order to prevent the planned atrocity, Bracken has to ingratiate himself with the group and make them give him a central role in proceedings hoping, all the while, that his employers will be ready to intervene at the crucial moment.
Parker is a fine young writer. He can muse ruefully on the inadequate protection the human body has against steel wielded with extreme malice:
“Blood and organs artfully arranged on bone. No myth, no mysticism. We are made of soft material that splits and spills, nothing more.”
There is also a more reflective side to his writing. In between energetically demolishing bad people, Bracken has moments of quieter reflection:
“And they weren’t lying when they said the Guinness was the best either – it’s an epiphany as pure and revelatory as finding Jesus and Elvis, all at once, in the same tall glass.”
The spectacular and bloody climax to this excellent thriller will settle the question I posed earlier about Till Morning Is Nigh being a Christmas novel. It is a bravura finale to a thoroughly engrossing thriller.
Till Morning Is Nigh is published by Endeavour Media and will be available from 13th December. Click on the text below to read reviews of other novels by Rob Parker.