Written by Chris Ewan — You’re a long time dead. So the saying goes. And if you happen to cross one of North West England’s most notorious gangsters, Connor Lane, you might as well be dead. Unless, that is, you get the help of Nick Miller and his team of experts who will help you get lost, and stay lost, out of reach of Lane’s lieutenants.
This is what Kate Sutherland discovers one rainy night on the Isle of Man. She’s in the National Crime Agency’s witness protection programme but Nick Miller has found her and he shows up at her ostentatious modernist property to warn her that if she doesn’t come with him, she’ll soon be dead. A former competitor in the modern pentathlon, Kate is circumspect and sends Miller on his way, though he leaves a pistol behind for her to keep under her pillow.
Sure enough, Kate gets to use the pistol when a Russian agent turned hitman closes in on her.
Miller returns and they go on the run. The witness protection programme is not secure enough to keep Connor Lane’s enemies safe, but in a run-down guesthouse in Weston-super-Mare, Kate can change her identity with the help of Miller, a former soap star called Becca, and a young tech whiz named Hanson. However, Kate still has doubts about Miller and doesn’t know if she can, or even if she should, live her life undercover.
To convince her, Miller explains that he has a network of people he’s protecting across Europe. No sooner has he told her about it than his client in Hamburg fails to check in, and from there on in Ewan delivers an action-packed ride taking in Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, France and Switzerland as Miller and Kate race to save people from Lane’s men.
Chris Ewan’s plotting is a work of genius, with twists, turns and double- and triple-bluffs galore. The tension and action are virtually non-stop, and yet he takes just the right amount of time to give each setting a tangible atmosphere. It’s disorientating at times, like when Kate and Becca arrive in France to rescue a man and his daughter and are caught up in a local carnival. But if you’re confused as a reader, it’s because the characters themselves are in a complete spin too, with a gun-toting lunatic on the left, the police on the right and… well… you’ll see who’s coming down the middle lane.
Then there are Ewan’s bad guys. Middle-aged and in his shirtsleeves, Renner has been loyal to the Lane family for a generation. But then there’s Wade, the tracksuited Mancunian psychopath whose favourite thing in the world ever is to hang someone upside-down and slowly beat them to death. He’s a bulldog of a fighter who never stops coming, and might remind you a little of Harlan Coben‘s Korean killer Eric Wu with the menace he brings to the book.
The story and how it’s told are a little reminiscent of Stephen King’s recent crime series that began with Mr Mercedes, while the momentum that Chris Ewan maintains throughout is a little like what Dan Brown manages to achieve. The book has a subtler side too. The theme of family shines through in between all the fighting and subterfuge, with Miller, Kate and even Connor Lane having lost someone close to them.
If there is a sticking point, it’s how frustrating some of the characters become when they’re warned that killers are on their way. This hesitancy works well in the beginning, when Kate won’t come with Miller because she doesn’t know him from Adam. However, when someone who’s already in hiding refuses to take flight unless they can go home and get their bag, you might feel like killing them yourself… if only to save the people they’re putting in danger.
This is Chris Ewan’s fourth standalone crime novel, and with each one he’s explored a slightly different type of storyline and crime-writing style. If his last one, Dark Tides, was creepy and psychological, then Long Time Lost is his action thriller, and it’s a smart one at that. There’s even a frisson of love in the air, the more time Kate and Miller spend together.
Faber & Faber
CFL Rating: 4 Stars