eaders of a Simon Kernick thriller should know by now what they are getting. There will be violence a-plenty, betrayal, corrupt cops, unscrupulous politicians, improbable escapes from certain death and a narrative style which grips the reader from start to finish. Like many popular writers he has separate series on the go, but Kernick isn’t averse to cross-referencing characters. By my reckoning, Die Alone is the eleventh book to feature the abrasive and resourceful Tina Boyd – once a copper but, in this novel a private investigator. The main man I Die Alone is another copper – Ray Mason. He first featured in The Witness (2016). Then came The Bone Field (2017) and The Hanged Man (2018) but with Tina Boyd – and her former lover Mike Bolt – in attendance.
We start with Mason in the Vulnerable Prisoner wing at a high security British prison. He is serving life sentences for the killing of two deeply unpleasant characters in the course of his duties. The deaths were judged not to be judicial, and so Mason inhabits a world shared with paedophiles, rapists, child pornographers – and disgraced coppers. When he is injured on the periphery of a prison riot, he is taken off to hospital in a supposedly secure van, which is then hijacked – the target being Mason himself. He is taken to what seems to be some kind of safe house run on government lines and, after being well fed and housed for a couple of days, he is given an ultimatum by the masked official who is in charge of things – carry out a hit on a Very Important target. He is left in no doubt as to what will happen if he refuses, but he takes little persuading, as the intended victim is someone whose life Mason would have little compunction in ending.
y now Kernick has introduced us to the repulsive Alastair Sheridan, a millionaire former hedge fund manager who has found his niche in politics and is regarded as everyone’s favourite to reach the top because of his affable style, movie star good looks and undoubted charisma. What the adoring public, and a bevy of fellow MPs who are about to support his leadership don’t now is that Sheridan is a sadistic sexual killer with links to organised crime and some of the most evil people in Europe.
Implicated in a series of brutal murders reference in earlier books, Sheridan has so far deflected any efforts by the police to link him irrefutably to the crimes, but the shadowy people who sprang Mason from jail know that he is a frequent customer at a very exclusive London brothel, and it is here that Mason is to make the hit. Almost inevitably, as the attempt occurs quite early in the book, everything goes pear-shaped, and Mason is forced to face the fact he has been set up. He escapes the trap, but is now the number one wanted criminal in the country.
ecuring the help of former colleague Tina Boyd gets Mason out of one scrape, but as he avoids the clutches of one set of villains, the next shootout or escape in the boot of someone’s car is just around the corner, with the action ranging from oily Tottenham car workshops, to rural Essex and then via Brittany to the bloodstained hills surrounding Sarajevo.
This is all good knockabout stuff, and even if there is a touch of “with one bound he was free” about Mason’s superhuman ability to avoid bombs, bullets and knives, such is Kernick’s skill as a storyteller that Die Alone is a brilliantly addictive addition to the thriller catalogue. It is published by Century, and will be available on November 28th.
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