Written by John Gordon Sinclair — Following his blistering crime debut Seventy Times Seven, actor John Gordon Sinclair returns to the crime fiction scene with his new thriller Blood Whispers. Delving into the murky world of Eastern European gangsters, CIA operatives, and one lawyer’s fight for justice for her client who is inextricably entangled with both, how does Sinclair’s difficult second novel fare?
At first the plot is straightforward enough with Glasgow lawyer Keira Lynch trying to protect her client Kaltrina Dervishi, a prostitute on the run from the Serbian gang leader Fisnik Abazi. Dervishi is the lynchpin in the prosecution’s evidence against Abazi, whilst Abazi simply wants Dervishi dead. What Keira doesn’t realise is that this is a case with global repercussions and soon the CIA comes calling. If Dervishi talks and Abazi is imprisoned, the Agency’s links with Abazi will be exposed, and this information must be protected at any cost.
So far so good in terms of plot, but then Sinclair does something annoying. In order to make his central character a tad more interesting, he gives Keira Lynch a background that’s a little too far fetched. It turns out she is living under an assumed identity having killed a man when she was eight years old. This is connected to her father’s involvement with the IRA. Hence, Keira becomes an intense, solitary one-woman justice-seeking missile who, with other aspects of the plot, stretches credibility.
Having attracted the dual attentions of the Serbian crime gang and the CIA’s crooked agents, her escape from various moments of peril are a bit contrived. Following the great pace and genuine excitement of the first third of the book, and even allowing for artistic license, some of the plot devices and the use of coincidences are irksome. The unconvincing plot is disappointing after the consistent thrills and spills in Sinclair’s debut novel. There are few surprises in terms of the ‘hunter versus hunted’ theme used in many previous thrillers and it doesn’t seem like there’s anything fresh here.
The characterisation of both Abazi and Keira is a little unconvincing too. However, I found some of the bit players much better defined. Kaltrina Derveshi, the escort at the centre of the criminal conspiracy, is incredibly empathetic, especially in the light of what befalls both her and her family in her role as stool pigeon. I also rather took to Jay-Go, the small-time criminal and addict who is Keira’s eyes on the street. A former client of hers, he’s hoping to pull off the drug deal of his life with the Serbs. He reminded me very much of Lonely from the classic series Callan, with his loyalty to Keira creating a similar oddball partnership, underlined by his unfailing optimism in achieving that one big score. I quite liked the understated role of the sinister Serbian hitman who shadows Keira’s every move. The dumb and dumber corrupt CIA agents do add a certain frisson to the plot, even if it does feel like it’s one conspiracy theory too far.
Overall, Blood Whispers is a mixed and ultimately disappointing read after Sinclair’s thoroughly enjoyable debut Seventy Times Seven. That difficult second book has perhaps unleashed its curse on him. Hopefully the author’s initial promise will be recaptured in his third novel, with a little less reliance on the familiar tropes of the thriller genre, and a more credible plotline.
Faber & Faber
CFL Rating: 2 Stars