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Frank Gardner

OUTBREAK . . . Between the covers

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This is the third Luke Carlton thriller by the BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner, following Crisis (2016) and Ultimatum (2018). Carlton is a former Special Forces operative who now works for MI6, the foreign intelligence service of the United Kingdom. The novel begins in the frozen wastes of Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago formerly known as Spitzbergen, and three environmental scientists from the UK Arctic Research Station have been caught out by a blizzard and, too far from their base camp to make it back safely, they seek refuge in a hut. What they find there makes them wish they had braved the snow and wind and tried for home. They find a gravely ill man, and one of the scientists, Dr Sheila Mackenzie gets rather too close to him:

“As Dr Mackenzie turned back to face the sick man, without warning he arched his body forward off the back of the couch with surprising speed. His whole body shook with involuntary convulsions. In that same moment, he coughed violently. His mouth wide open in a rictus gape, he emitted a spray of blood, bile and mucus into the air, his face less than two feet from hers, before collapsing, quivering on to the wooden floor.”

Screen Shot 2021-06-06 at 18.46.45That, then, is the Aliens moment. Events move with terrifying speed. Mackenzie is airlifted back to England and isolation and the wheels of government and the intelligence agencies begin to whirr. Given that there is a large Russian presence in Svalbard, ostensibly for mining operations, the fingers of guilt begin to point towards Moscow, particularly when the virus is found to be man-made.

Gardner doesn’t allow either Carlton or readers pause for either thought or breath. The action zig-zags between the MI6 building at Vauxhall Cross in London, the Arctic Circle, Vilnius, Moscow, GCHQ in Cheltenham and – less exotic but rather more deadly – a down-at-heel industrial estate near Braintree.

This is an impeccably researched novel, as you would expect from someone with Gardner’s experience in the worlds of soldiering, news gathering and international affairs. Most of the story is all-too-horribly plausible, given what we know about what is euphemistically known as ‘mischief’ from Moscow and Beijing, but then Gardner has a surprise for us. The Russians are involved, certainly, but not the Russians we might have expected. To say more would spoil the entertainment but I did find the identity of the conspirators not entirely plausible, given what we know (or think we know) about terror cells operating around the world. But hey-ho, this is not a documentary but a novel – and a bloody good one, too.

Gardner has a box full of thriller writer tools, and he uses them to great effect – punchy, short chapters, many of them shamelessly cliff hanging, whirlwind globe trotting, a convincing (if rather conventional) hero, something of a romantic backstory, breathtaking amounts of cyber-wizardry, and enough military intelligence acronyms to satisfy the geekiest security geek. You won’t be surprised to hear that Carlton eventually triumphs, but I advise caution. The last twelve words of the book might set alarm bells ringing …..

Outbreak is published by Bantam Press and is out now.

ON MY SHELF . . . Gardner, Grisham, Macmillan and Perry

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OUTBREAK by Frank Gardner

OutbreakFrank Gardner’s life has been like a thriller in itself. The former army officer had a glittering career in broadcast journalism until he narrowly escaped death at the hands of al-Quaida gunmen in Saudi Arabia. After numerous operations, he resumed his career withe BBC, albeit confined to a wheelchair. This is his third novel, coming after Crisis (2016) and Ultimatum (2018), and again features MI6 operative Luke Carlton. Carlton has his most desperate case yet, as he tries to get to the bottom of a terrifying contagion that seems to have its source in a desolate research station in the Arctic Circle. Outbreak is out in hardback on 27th May, and is published by Bantam Press.

THE FIRM by John Grisham

Firm019The author’s work has pretty much become the industry standard for legal thrillers, and this edition is the latest reprint of the book that made his name, way back in 1991. The cover looks like that of the 25th anniversary edition (2016) but with a different colour filter on the cover illustration. The novel tells the tale of a brilliant Harvard educated lawyer, Mitch McDeere, whose first job is a dream come true – especially with an astonishing salary, a new home, and keys to a gleaming new BMW. When he realises that Bendini, Lambert & Locke are little more than a front for the Mafia, he realises he is in deep, deep trouble. This will be available as an Arrow paperback on 1st April.

TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH by Gilly Macmillan

TTYTTLucy Harper is a best-selling writer of thrillers, whose talent for macabre invention and stunning plot-twists has earned her a small fortune and tens of thousands of devoted fans. What few of these readers know, however, is that when Lucy was just nine years old – thirty years ago – her brother mysteriously disappeared, and she was the only witness. The case was never solved, but now her husband Dan has also disappeared. What does Lucy know? Is this collision of past and present just a coincidence, or is there something more sinister going on? To Tell You The Truth came out in hardback in June 2020, but this paperback edition will be on sale (Arrow books) from 13th May.

THE HERETIC’S MARK by SW Perry

HereticsThe Nicholas Shelby books – known as  the Jackdaw Mysteries, after a London tavern –  are great fun, and rich in period drama and detail. Nicholas Shelby is a somewhat unorthodox physician in Elizabethan England, and he has dealings – somewhat reluctantly – with the Queen’s spymaster Robert Cecil. Here, Gloriana’s personal doctor has been executed for treason. Shelby and his wife Bianca are caught up in the wave of suspicion and conspiracy which follows, and are forced to flee to Italy before their necks are also on the axeman’s block. I have reviewed – and thoroughly enjoyed – earlier books in this excellent series, so click here for more detail.This latest ‘Mark’ will be available from 1st April, and is published by Corvus.

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ON MY SHELF . . . April 2019

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ELIOT’S PESSIMISM comes to mean more and more the older I get. The contrast between the annual rebirth of ‘the dead land’ gets starker with every little personal infirmity that old age brings. But, hey-ho, that’s another winter ticked off, and the poignant lines from Bilbo’s song can be put back in the box for another few months:

BilboLeaving aside the morbid musings, there’s no shortage of cruelty in the latest crop of excellent crime reads on the Fully Booked shelf. For me, the highlight has to be the latest Tom Thorne novel, where our man goes head-to-head with a particularly nasty specimen of humanity who bears out the adage that the female is deadlier than the male.

DECEPTION by Maggie Belvoir

DeceptionSet in the university town of Cambridge, Deception tells the tale of a how an ostensibly ideal family of perfect children, loving parents and comfortable circumstances is rent asunder when their good deed – adopting a troubled schoolgirl – certainly does not go unpunished. Add to the mix a nasty murder and a conflicted police officer, and we have a witches’ cauldron of dark deeds against the serene background of an ancient seat of learning. Maggie Belvoir has lived in Cambridge for 40 years. She is writing under a pseudonym as members of her social and family circle, may be shocked at some of the scenes depicted in her novel. Published by Matador, Deception is out now.

THEIR LITTLE SECRET by Mark Billingham

TLSLondon copper Tom Thorne has become an institution for those who like a brilliant police procedural with a distinctly individual cast list, a Pandora’s Box of nasty villains and plot twists to confound the best of us. A conman whose set-piece scam is to befriend wealthy women and separate them from their fortune meets his match when he chooses his next victim – only to find that she is a borderline insane psychopath. You can get your copy of Their Little Secret from 2nd May, and it’s published by Little, Brown.
For more on Mark Billingham on Fully Booked, follow this link.

THE UNSEEN PATH by JD De Pavilly

TUPFor starters, the copy I received today is a beautifully presented hardback, with that simplest, but most welcome delight – a ribbon bookmark. The novel is centred around the life of a security officer, Andy Bowson whose witnessing of the death of a notorious jihadi draws him down into a vortex of corruption, international subterfuge and political mayhem. As if Bowson hasn’t enough to deal with, his personal life has begun to unravel at an alarming rate, and when his wife disappears on Exmoor while driving to visit her parents, he discovers a sinister link to what appears to be a vigilante campaign against the Islamic community. I normally take publicity blurbs with several sizeable grains of NaCl, but one line intrigued me here:
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This thriller marks the debut of an exciting new writing talent, and will be published by Matador on 28th April.

THE LOST SHRINE by Nicola Ford

Lost ShrineI confess a vested interest here in that one of my sons is a professional archaeologist who is employed by a major construction company. He identifies and records ancient traces before they are covered with tons of steel and concrete. In the real world, this commercial work keeps archaeology alive, and so the Nicola Ford’s fictional sleuth Clare Hills and her university colleague Dr David Barbrook know they have to accept, albeit reluctantly the developers’ shilling. Murder, however, is a different matter, and a corpse found on an historical site high on a Cotswold hill leads Hills and Barbrook into dangerous territory. The Lost Shrine is published by Alison &Busby and is out on 23rd May. Please read the Fully Booked review of the first novel in this series, The Hidden Bones.

ULTIMATUM by Frank Gardner

UltimatumIntelligence agent Luke Carlton is the creation of the celebrated BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner. Carlton made his debut in the 2017 best-seller Crisis, and now he returns for a second adventure set in that apotheosis of anti-Western malice, Iran. The feared Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps are working on a weapon which will destroy the fragile international balance of power. When a search-and-destroy mission involving Carlton goes disastrously wrong, the clock starts to tick on a potentially devastating military and political time bomb. Ultimatum is published by Corgi and will be available from 31st May.

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COMPETITION … Win a copy of Crisis by Frank Gardner

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Most people who follow the news on the BBC will have seen its Security Correspondent Frank Gardner, or heard his compelling voice on radio. Many will know that he was a disabled by appalling gunshot wounds he received while covering a story in Saudi Arabia in 2004.

crisis-backAlready widely admired for two memoirs about his life and travels, Gardner has now written a bestselling novel, Crisis, which tells the story of an ex Special Boat Service commando in a life-or-death race to prevent a Colombian drug lord inflicting a catastrophic attack on London.

Published by Bantam, a crisp new paperback of Crisis can be yours if you enter our prize draw. Simple email Fully Booked at the address below, putting Crisis in the subject box. The competition closes at 10.00pm GMT on Sunday March 12th, 2017. On this occasion we are happy to post the prize anywhere in the world!

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

Your name will go into the hat, and a winner will be drawn in the usual way. The competition closes at 10.00pm GMT on Sunday 12th March. Entries are welcome from our followers in America, Australia or Europe!

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