Smile of the Viper

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Smile of the ViperWritten by Harry Dunn — Take one downbeat gumshoe, add a beautiful damsel in distress and all you need is a bad impression of Humphrey Bogart to create the recipe for a cliched fictional view of the life of a private detective. Thankfully, Harry Dunn has steered clear of all the traps to create private investigator Jack Barclay – a man who is is anything but predictable. Yes, Barclay is struggling a little in the business department, and a woman in trouble is his newest client, but here we have an all-British tough guy with a cuddly side. And nary a fedora in sight!

The female in question is Jill Stanton, whose financier husband has gone missing. Tom is a supposedly stand-up guy who loves his wife and family and is as honest as the day is long. Wrong! As Barclay begins to investigate the amazing vanishing financial adviser, he realises that Tom has been living a lie for quite some while. But just what has caused him to suddenly up and disappear now, taking nearly £1m in clients’ cash with him?

Clues lead Barclay to France, where Tom is living with a new Mrs Stanton – a French beauty called Danielle who, it transpires, has close links with the local arm of an international drugs cartel. She also has a viper tattoo. In-keeping with the book’s title, it’s a bit of a clue as to how pivotal a role she plays in the developing story. Meanwhile, in London, some particularly nasty hoodlums leave a trail of seemingly random deaths in their wake as they search for the miscreant money man. Things get nastier still when members of the Stanton family are put at risk. Can our hero Jack Barclay save the day?

The action jumps between London and Paris and the plot is fast-paced and cleverly constructed – it should keep you happily entertained for many hours. Author Harry Dunn is a former journalist who later worked for the BBC’s Publications division, where he accompanied many celebrity authors on promotional tours throughout the North. He whiled away the many hours spent in hotels by reading crime fiction, while dreaming of someday writing his own novel – thus was born the idea of creating a personable private eye. Jack Barclay, take a bow!

I do have a bit of an aversion to books that centre on financial misdealings – they can be complicated, and are invariably littered with incomprehensible jargon. On my part, this usually leads to me skipping past whole chunks of text and losing the thread of the plot. Luckily, Dunn keeps things simple here, and Tom’s crooked schemes are surprisingly easy to follow. This is an impressive debut, with a storyline that is easy on the brain, but convoluted enough to keep you interested to the very end. I hear that Harry is already working on a sequel, so I’m pleased to learn that I’ll be meeting Jack Barclay again some time soon!

Caffeine Nights

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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