Battle Stress, Shell Shock, War Neurosis, Post-traumatic stress disorder, it’s been around for centuries but only recently, the 1980’s actually, has it been officially recognized and become more widely known thanks to its buzzy new moniker PTSD. For years battle weary soldiers and those in the front-line of emergency response who’d witnessed truly awful sights, things you wouldn’t have shown a five-year-old, let alone a thirty-five-year-old. They have suffered in silence trying to deal with the images seared onto their temporal lobe, usually dealing with the repercussions through substance abuse and self-harm, leading ultimately to taking their own life in some cases. The author of this month’s book is a former policeman, who was advised to take up writing to overcome his PTSD, brought about by having been at the centre of some of the worst atrocities caused by the IRA and other terrorist groups on the British mainland. He was one of the first officers on the scene of the Regents Park bombing in 1982, was injured in the Baltic Exchange bombing in 1993, and traveled with his mortally wounded colleague WPC Yvonne Fletcher after she was shot by Libyan terrorists in 1984. The book is Deadly Game by Matt Johnson published by Orenda books (www.orendabooks.co.uk) at the end of March.
For Inspector Robert Finlay, things are hopefully starting to return to normal following the attempt on his own, his family’s life and the lives of a few of his former SAS colleagues. On returning to work with London’s Metropolitan Police force, he finds himself the centre of internal and inter agency politics and the fear by other officers that he is a “Bullet Magnet”. Assigned to the Department dealing with the Eastern European Sex Slave industry, whilst Robert and some of his superiors thought it might be a way of keeping out of trouble, they are in for a rude awakening.
For no sooner has he started his new job and while on a Mediterranean holiday, he saves a young woman from drowning and is invited to her wedding as a sign of her gratitude, only to realize that his past and present lives are about to collide again. Her families publishing company are a well-known front for the sex trafficking industry and their latest book is a rehashed memoir of an operation Finlay’s SAS team were on in Afghanistan. During the wedding, he defuses a situation by disarming a security guard. Then a couple of weeks later, while investigating the murder of an escaped sex slave worker turned informant, he and his new partner come face to face with the same man in an armed standoff in a London street. Add to that, the kidnapping of a female Firearms officer and Robert is hurled into a race against time to disrupt the Sex Trafficking gang’s activities and save the life of the kidnapped police officer. This, all while trying to decipher the mysterious documents that were found in the papers of an ex-army buddy , which are costing people who come into contact with them their lives.
I didn’t get a chance to read Johnson’s first book “Wicked Game”. If I had and it had been written as well as this one was, and all the reviews seem to point to that conclusion, then I’d have camped out overnight in-front of my local book store book on this one’s publication date or at least politely harangued my friends at Orenda for a copy. What starts out slowly, soon explodes into a vibrant and Le Carre-esque read that had me on the edge of my seat from the first page.
Most books have one main story running through it, but here Johnson has so many threads running at once that, I almost needed a towel to mop the sweat from my brow and a masseur to work on my neck which was almost constantly sore from looking over my shoulder, so enveloped by this book and Johnson’s writing was I. The last fictional police hero to leave me with this excitement and enthusiasm for his next book was Frank Pagan, the hero of the books Jig, Mazurka, Mambo, Jigsaw and Heat by the late Scottish author Campbell Armstrong.
This is English author Matt Johnson’s second book(www.mattjohnsonauthor.com), his
first one Wicked Game was originally self-published in 2012, then following the acquiring
the rights to it. Orenda published in 2016, where it went on to be long-listed for the 2016 John Creasey New Blood Dagger award, as well being listed on Amazon as the highest rated debut novel of the year.
Like Pagan, Finlay, is an old-school policeman whose graduated from the University of hard knocks and developed his skills on “The Beat”, but unlike Pagan he’s also got a military background which gives him additional talents in the firearms and hand to hand combat departments. Thus, enabling him to swim against the tide when in deeper waters than most coppers would find themselves in.
The main story line centering on the modern sex Slave trade is still very current and hasn’t been over worked by numerous authors before him. Although I was worried that he was going to fall back on a hoary old chestnut in the form of IRA involvement – because in the past authors who’ve written about ex-SAS operatives, think the only foes they’ve ever faced were in Northern Ireland, but this ends up as just a bit of a red herring in Johnson’s case.
There are a few loose ends in this book, which look intriguing going forth, I’ll therefore look forward to seeing what future perils Johnson pits his very believable creation against in in future books. While doing so, I suggest you buy or down load a copy of Johnson’s first two books and get in at the start of what could be another crime series featuring a great British bobby.