Written by Gerard Brennan — Lydia Gallagher is the agent for star footballer Rory Cullen, recently transferred for a record fee from Chelsea to Manchester United. She and her family are over in Belfast, Cullen’s home town, following the release of his controversial autobiography. But her husband John and 12-year-old-son Mattie are taken hostage by a gang of masked men. Lydia has to betray Cullen, or her family die. With their threats ringing in her ears Lydia travels around Belfast with Cullen on the tour, all the while waiting for instructions from the kidnappers.
Cormac Kelly works as an undercover cop with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). He has managed to infiltrate the gang holding Lydia’s family and is gradually working out a plan to save them but everything goes wrong. One of the gang starts to beat up Mattie and Cormac steps up. In the process John is shot and Cormac’s cover is blown. He manages to get Mattie and John out and calls his handler so he can come in. But something doesn’t ring true, and Cormac thinks someone on the inside is feeding information to the gang. So, he goes rogue.
The Irish leg of the tour complete Lydia and Cullen head over to England to strike a series of lucrative sponsorship deals that she has been working on. Enter McGoldrick, a wily, well connected Scot with a reputation for making tough deals. He learns about Lydia’s situation and offers to help. With the support of McGoldrick’s security consultant, an ex-spook called Stephen Black, the group work on a plan to get her family back…
This novel should really have been titled Relentless, because it is. The pace doesn’t let up from beginning to end. The opening immediately pulls you in with the kidnapping when masked men enter Lydia’s house. From then on the action is non-stop. Lydia’s fear is palpable – she’ll give up anything to keep her family safe, but how far will she go? It’s up to you to guess.
The narrative cuts between Lydia and Cormac’s perspectives – for the first half of the book the pair are not aware of each other’s activities. Lydia is being manipulated so her family will be allowed to go free, bur McCormack already has them. It’s not straightforward for McCormack – Lydia’s husband has been shot and he thinks there’s a mole in the PSNI, feeding the opposition information about him. So McCormack cuts loose and takes things into his own hands. It is this tool that Gerard Brennan cleverly uses to maintain the pace. Even when you think rescue is at hand he throws in another twist, another problem for his lead characters to resolve.
The Belfast based author clearly draws upon his Northern Irish surroundings and experience for inspiration, but without aggrandisement. McCormack himself is a great character. He has a dark and troubled background that is only brushed upon, just enough to give him motivation, whilst allowing the real McCormack to skulk in the shadows. As Undercover is sub-titled ‘Cormac Kelly 1’ then it’s reasonable to assume this is the start of a series, and that’s a good thing.
Overall a very satisfying read with a strong blend of intrigue, mystery and tension from beginning to end.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars