Written by John Di Frances — This is the first book of a trilogy about an international hunt for a trio of assassins targeting European politicians. As a crime thriller, the tradecraft of the assassins is detailed and persuasive, and the police procedural elements also are good. It’s billed as a book that demonstrates disenchantment with the European Union – the assassination targets are big EU supporters – but it doesn’t really work as a political thriller, because there’s very little politics in it. The assassins could just as well be murdering top chefs or social media gurus.
From chapter to chapter, the point of view alternates between the assassins and the multinational team of investigators on their trail. The assassins are an Irish couple, handsome and strikingly beautiful, wealthy, elegant, and socially adept (in a too-good-to-be-true way) and a more rough-around-the-edges German man, who is an expert sniper.
The couple’s first target is Slovakia’s prime minister, who is killed by a car bomb after leaving a Bratislava restaurant. They then are joined by the German for the second murder, that of the Polish prime minister as he attends a major sporting event. It’s a technically difficult challenge, shooting from a distance of 640 meters into a packed stadium of excitable soccer fans.
The three escape to Berlin, where they stay several steps ahead of the authorities. Interpol, Polish domestic intelligence and its Government Protection Bureau (akin to the Secret Service and charged with the safety of the country’s political leaders) and German security agencies are all on the case.
John Di Frances’s cat-and-mouse game is well done and may carry you through some of the clunky writing. Not only do the assassins approach cartoonish perfection, their dialog is improbable as well. In the narrative portions, you can encounter a barrage of technical specifications about a particular weapon, demonstrating that Di Frances did his homework. Yet the weight or length of a rifle is immaterial, of itself. Such information needs to be brought into the story. Is the sniper accustomed to a rifle of that type, is its length an advantage or maybe it makes it hard to conceal?
Why any editor wouldn’t have convinced him not to handle abbreviations like parenthetical footnotes, I don’t know, either. Thus: “Once on the roof, he moved quickly to the ladder of the elevated HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning) mechanical platform.” And, I almost stopped reading when I got to a bullet-point list of 16 variables affecting the soccer stadium shot. Fiction turned into a PowerPoint presentation.
However, the plot will pull you forward and Di Frances has a great twist in store. When you reach the end of Pretense, you realise you’re not at the end of the story. To really understand what’s been going on, you’ll have to read book two and very probably book three. Not sure I’m ready for that.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars