Written by Keith Nixon — Yes, the author is a contributor here on Crime Fiction Lover, but don’t worry, that doesn’t mean he gets an easy ride. Here we have his latest novel of mayhem and mishaps on the Kent coast with his creation Konstantin – a former Russian spy who’s living a bit like a tramp in the UK. Konstantin is a private man, wary of the interest of others, as most survivors of the Gulag undoubtedly are. He may seem like a tramp in Margate, but in reality he is reasonably prosperous.
His contact in MI6, the taciturn Mr Lamb (no first names thank you very much) calls with a job. Despite serious misgivings, Konstantin agrees, because no-one says no to Mr Lamb, not even him.
Konstantin is to break into a building in Tonbridge and steal a bag from the vault. But this is no ordinary building. It stores currency for the City, hundreds of millions of pounds at a time, so security is tight. There are three police stations close by, and random patrols every few hours. The high walls are covered with razor wire, and there is CCTV coverage throughout.
If that isn’t hard enough, Konstantin doesn’t even get to pick his own team. First on board is Violet, a nice young woman who announces her presence by picking a fight with half the customers in his local – definitely not the kind of attention Konstantin enjoys. Next up is Neil Wright, a criminal lawyer, notably more of a criminal than a lawyer, and someone who has had unpleasant dealings with Konstantin in the past. Wright’s job is to act as middle man, keeping the employer’s hands from getting dirty, and troubleshooting when problems arise. Since this is a Konstantin caper, you just know there will be plenty of those. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about Nixon’s writing is his capacity for making things go wrong. In his hands, Konstantin couldn’t go out for a loaf of bread without being mugged or abducted, and there is no shortage of mayhem in Dark Heart, Heavy Soul.
Next to join is David Lockwood, a screw at Wormwood Scrubs with a nasty streak and a serious overestimation of his own criminal capabilities. And it wouldn’t be complete without computer whizz Sticky Mickey. The only problem with him is that Konstantin will need to help Lockwood break him out of the Scrubs.
The story of the break-in is fast and dazzling, and like the other Konstantin books, laced with humour. Think The Italian Job meets the Lavender Hill Mob, and you won’t be far wrong. The action is gritty in places; people die or get badly hurt, but everything is undercut with a peculiarly British amateurishness. Only Konstantin seems to have the skills to get the job done, the rest are flying by the seat of their pants. You will be aware that Konstantin is holding information back from his colleagues, and from yourself. Occasionally this gets a little frustrating and confusing, but overall helps to keep up the tension in a book that sometimes wanders a little off topic.
The title, Dark Heart, Heavy Soul refers to a subplot about Konstantin’s mysterious past – a double-cross in Chechnya in 1999 – and goes someway to explaining his solitary nature as well as adding a little shade to counterbalance the more light-hearted tone of the book.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars