Written by John Sweeney — It’s an ordinary winter’s night in London and Joe Tiplady is out for a walk with his dog, Reilly. He soon realises he’s not alone, two men and a woman are following him and it’s not him they’re after, but Reilly. Tiplady has a dark past. He used to be a bomb maker for the IRA, until an event changed his perspective and he left the ranks, moving to England to hide from his former colleagues. Is it the IRA wanting their revenge? What the heck do they want with his dog?
In Utah, Mormon Ezekiel (Zeke) Chandler used to be a deputy director of the CIA, now he lives in the mountains and is struggling with his faith. Against his wishes, Chandler is drawn back towards the murky world of counter intelligence.
On the other side of the world, in Southern Russia, Reikhman, a tax inspector called Reikhman is tracking down three targets – witnesses to something the man at the top of the Russian political pile doesn’t want known. With him is the driver, Konstantin, and a junior colleague, Iryna. After finding out what the trio know Reikhman kills them, and he leaves no loose ends by murdering Konstantin and Iryna as well. Reikhman returns home, messy mission accomplished and seemingly covered up.
However, Reikhman made several mistakes. There was a witness to Iryna’s murder, a young soldier who filmed the whole thing, and Iryna was the daughter of a retired general, a Soviet-era hero called Major Gennady Dzohd. He begins to search for his daughter’s killer…
The book has many positives. John Sweeney is a seasoned journalist, and is clearly a proficient wordsmith. Most of the chapters are very well written. There’s a strong sense of foreboding when the Russian bad guys are stalking the pages, particularly Reihmkan and his mentor and chief architect of misery Grozhov. There’s tension aplenty, and danger always seems to lurk around the corner.
It’s the Russian element the author seems most at ease with, particularly the bleak culture and generally grim existence in the face of it all, very reminiscent of the Arkady Renko series by Martin Cruz Smith.
Most of the characters are strong and likeable, particularly Dzohd, when he is on the page there is a sense of warmth, even within the need for revenge. His military past could form an interesting novel in its own right.
However, there are some issues. The protagonist is supposed to be Joe Tiplady, and the series is named after him, although the story is driven by Dzohd’s hunt for his daughter’s killer. More pages seem to be devoted to this plot line… or perhaps it’s just that these are the most compelling parts of the book. There is a huge cast of characters at the outset, some of which naturally become peripheral, but the book remains a bit overwhelming until the narrative settles down to concentrate on Tiplady, Dzohd and Reihkman.
There is a surprising issue with perspective shift – a ‘head hopping’, move from one character’s viewpoint to another in one section. That’s fine if there are clear breaks in the narrative, but sometimes it adds to the confusion.
Finally there are a few contrivances – for example Dzohd gains access to a block of flats where an old lady was murdered by Reihkman at the outset. It just happens the one bell he rings was a witness to the lady’s murder who provides a further lead for Dzohd to chase. The likelihood of striking this person first go would seem low to me.
Overall this is a solid thriller by a clearly talented debut writer, who will more than likely develop and strengthen with future books. I’ll look for John Sweeney in future, that’s for certain.
Cold is released 1 July. For more espionage books, click here.
Thomas & Mercer
CFL Rating: 3 Stars