Written by Tom Bale — Coming in at a chunky 520-plus pages, The Catch is a bruiser of a paperback. And I’ll admit there were times I thought I was never going to reach the end. It’s a noir thriller with all the key ingredients – bad decisions that make life worse for the key characters, death and wrongdoing, cover-ups, and a morally ambiguous ending.
The story opens in a Sussex country pub, where two young men stop off for a cheeky pint or two. But there’s a hidden agenda here. Dan and Robbie are there to keep a discreet eye on Robbie’s sister, Cate, who is meeting a man. No date, this. Cate’s assignation is with the singularly unpleasant Hank O’Brien, to hand over a bundle of cash on Robbie’s behest.
As we soon discover, Robbie is nothing more than a charming chancer who will jump at any opportunity to make a dishonest buck, and Mr O’Brien is one of his unwitting victims. A letting agent by trade, Robbie had Hank’s house on his books and made a tidy (if dodgy) profit by renting the place out to a film company without telling the owner. But who’d have guessed it? Hank actually saw the film in question on his return flight to Britain, and has demanded his share of the rental cash.
The handover is not without its drama. Hank takes exception when Cate refuses to go back to his house for a euphemistic nightcap, and the boys wade in to rescue her. Robbie and Dan keep up the pretence of not knowing their damsel in distress, and a disgruntled Hank leaves the pub to walk home clutching his envelope stuffed with money.
So far, so fairly uneventful until Dan and Robbie see Hank walking on the wrong side of the dark and deserted country road. Robbie grabs the wheel of Dan’s car and the ensuing collision proves fatal to Hank. Dan and Robbie think they can get away with covering it up, but the killing will have huge repercussions for them. That’s because as well as being an odious man with wandering hands, it transpires that Hank O’Brien was also at the heart of a convoluted plot to bring down one of the country’s biggest companies. His employers are none too happy when they learn that their key man has been found dead in a country ditch. What started out as a spur of the moment hit and run fast turns into a battle to survive for Dan, Cate and Robbie. With enigmatic contact killer Stemper on the side of the baddies, the odds are definitely stacked against them…
The Catch is a densely plotted novel which takes plenty of concentration – certainly not a book that you can skim through. I found the first half slow going, although things speeded up somewhat after that as pieces began to fall into place and the body count rose. The finale is fast paced, which seems a little at odds with the rest of the book and when all is said and done it’ll leave you with a number of unanswered questions. Overall The Catch, with its recurring themes of friendship and betrayal, is a thriller that will appeal to those who like their crime steeped in noir, multi-layered and solidly drawn.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars