Written by Robert Wilson — A chaotic, booze-fueled night out for a group of London 20-somethings results in confusion and a random stabbing on a Covent Garden pavement. A drunk girl is whisked away from the carnage in a taxi. But it isn’t a real taxi, and she isn’t just any girl. She is Alysia d’Cruz. Rich and beautiful, Alysia just happens to be the daughter of Goanese billionaire Francisco ‘Frank’ d’Cruz, a former Bollywood film legend and gold smuggler, who has spent his off-screen years putting together a huge commercial and industrial empire.
This is a kidnapping, and one that is carried out by a clever and ruthless gang. As Alysia is moved from one hiding place to another, and the lower-rung criminal foot-soldiers are progressively removed from the scene by those higher up, it becomes clear that this isn’t just a standard ‘£3 million or you will never see her again’ plot. Alysia’s parents are divorced, and it is her mother, Isabel Marks, who is contacted by the kidnappers. While she prepares a gourmet meal for her publisher friends, she receives a chilling phone call. A disguised voice does not ask for cash, but instead seems more concerned that Alysia should reveal some hidden secret in her past, and that Frank has an unpaid debt to honour.
Through a third party, a renowned hostage negotiator and kidnap expert, Charles Boxer, is engaged by Isabel and Frank. The kidnappers have laid down a strict ‘no police’ demand, but through his political connections, d’Cruz enlists discreet police and military intelligence operatives. There is a slight problem. The top police operative is the exotic Ghanaian, Mercy Danquah and she just happens to be the ex-partner of Boxer, and mother of their errant daughter, Amy.
The story darts from one location to another: Indian slums, luxury London apartments, Islamist drug factories in Hackney, military intelligence facilities in Pakistan and Bermondsey lock-ups. The characters are many and varied; the distraught and noble Isabel, the grotesque gangster Archibald Pike, the lantern-jawed Charlie Boxer, Frank’s mysterious ex-employee Deepak Mistry, and the mismatched and fatally flawed kidnappers Dan and Skin.
A few things jar in this otherwise excellent novel. I didn’t really see the point of Charles and Isabel falling into bed at literally the first opportunity. It added nothing to the plot except an obvious frisson between Charles and Mercy. The lengthy conversations between various Pakistani military men who may or may not be Al Qaeda members were unnecessarily detailed. Finally, I have a personal beef about writing which tries to establish location by sounding like a Sat-Nav. You tell me we are in London, and I believe you. I don’t need the name of every street Dan is walking down.
The single greatest strength of this book is that the author keeps us guessing almost until the final pages about who is actually behind Alysia’s abduction. He throws out teasers every now and again, only to remove the smug ‘I knew it’ smile from our faces with yet another clever plot twist. The cast of villains – junior and senior – is impressive, but I did have to work hard to keep the myriad Indian and Pakistan players in some sort of order. Charles Boxer was convincingly cold and professional, while his tortured relationship with his daughter lent him a touch of vulnerability. This is not a flawless novel, but it is a convincing description of how lowlife criminals, business tycoons, law officers and terrorists can collide, with exciting and fatal consequences.
Read our interview with the author here.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars