Mark Allen Smith (www.markallensmith.com)
Simon & Schuster (www.simonandschuster.co.uk)
Geiger is a man without a past; his life started with his arrival, several years before, in New York. Before that, a black hole. After chance leads him to the local Mafia boss, he decides to go into Information Retrieval – torturing subjects to extract information required by paying clients – and discovers that he is very good at it. Geiger rarely draws blood, but he has a knack for knowing truth from lies, and for understanding exactly how to get the information he needs. When a client presents a twelve-year-old boy as the subject instead of the expected adult, Geiger acts quickly without considering the consequences for himself or his partner, Harry: he grabs the boy and runs. But the client has the resources to track them down, and the motivation for getting the boy back and finding out what he knows; everyone else is expendable.
I will freely admit that when I read the blurb for The Inquisitor and learned that the author started out life as a screenwriter, I set my expectations for a very specific type of thriller. You know the type – two-dimensional characters and a very cinematic experience; a Jason Statham movie in book form. So I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. The central characters spring from the page fully-formed and with complete backstories, and the book reads like a well-structured novel, rather than the dialogue- and action-heavy converted screenplay we might have expected.
Geiger is a man of few words, and something of an enigma, even to himself. As events progress, we begin to see glimpses into his past, and the events that formed him. Throw in the fact that he has been seeing a psychiatrist since his “rebirth” and Geiger suddenly seems more human than he pretends to be. Given his line of work, he is clearly a man of few scruples, but he does have a strict moral code for which he is willing to sacrifice everything. It is in his relationship with his business partner, Harry, and, ultimately, his fast friendship with the boy, that we see the humanity behind the stone facade and find someone worth rooting for. His choice of name shows us something of the man’s personality:
At first he’d used the name Gray, then Black. One day, passing a Barnes & Noble bookstore, he spotted a book about the artwork of H. R. Giger. The byzantine images appealed to him, as did the name with its twin g’s. For visual symmetry, he added an e and so became Geiger.
Smith offers a taut thriller with dark undertones. The events take place over the course of 24 hours and this compact time-scale allows the author to ratchet up the tension very quickly once the introductions are out of the way. It’s a fast-paced and, most importantly, believable piece of fiction. Smith manages to keep things down-to-earth and on a tight rein: Geiger is no superman, and as the story progresses he becomes more ragged, to the point where we wonder how he keeps moving. The author manages to tell his story without levelling half of New York and, with the exception of one or two little surprises, presents a straightforward tale that is engrossing, entertaining and uncomplicated. Which is not to say that it’s predictable; far from it, but you won’t find any convoluted twists or high-concept macguffins designed purely to confuse the reader. At its heart, The Inquisitor is a tale of evil versus evil – let’s not forget what Geiger does for a living. It’s a daring concept for a first-time author, but it succeeds due to careful plotting and characters who are immediately engaging and intriguing.
The Inquisitor is Mark Allen Smith’s first novel. Well-written and well- (if simply-) plotted, it serves to introduce the character of Geiger and sidekick Harry to the world. It is unlikely, in this reader’s humble opinion, that this is the last we’ll see of either of them. Geiger presents as a cross between Jack Reacher and Sheldon Cooper. While The Inquisitor may not appeal to fans of The Big Bang Theory, fans of Lee Child’s series would do well to give it a shot: it’s an excellent first novel, and brings with it the promise of more to come.
Howard Gordon (www.howardmgordon.com)
Simon & Schuster (www.simonandschuster.co.uk)
Here’s a good concept for one of those rollercoaster-ride thrillers that I like to read from time to time, the type of book that doesn’t require much concentration, but delivers entertainment by the bucketful: Gideon Davis is a peacemaker, a man working for the US president who spends most of his time at the negotiating table, trying to get all sides in any civil war or otherwise violent conflict to see eye to eye. He’s good at what he does because he believes in the peaceful approach and, because of a horrific incident in his past, has vowed never to take a human life, or use a gun. His brother, Tillman, is the flipside of the same coin: a man who believes that the only way to combat violence is with violence. Tillman, working undercover for the government, has spent the past several years in the oil-rich nation of Mohan posing as terrorist Abu Nasir, attempting to infiltrate the jihadist movement that is threatening the stability of the small island nation.
Tillman, seemingly, has gone rogue, and taken the terrorist activities to the extreme. Now, he wants to come home, and will only surrender himself to his brother. The handover is scheduled to take place on the monolithic Obelisk, a giant drilling platform located off the coast of the island in the South China Seas. But as the main players move into position, the Obelisk is seized by a man claiming to be Abu Nasir, and Gideon Davis finds himself struggling to survive in a hostile country with nothing but the rapidly-solidifying knowledge that the only way he might survive is with a gun in his hand.
With a concept like that, a main character who sits in the same moral space as Jack Reacher, and a man like Howard Gordon – executive producer and writer of popular television series 24 – behind the wheel, you can be guaranteed a great ride. Or can you? Or should I say, Or can you?
The answer is a resounding “Yes”, for the first half of the book. With twists that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of 24 – you certainly can’t trust anyone – and a plot that moves at frantic speed, you’ll be quite literally perched on the edge of your seat, trying to turn the pages faster to see what’s going to happen next. And introducing a 24-hour deadline certainly doesn’t hurt things. But somewhere around the halfway mark – maybe slightly further in – Mr Gordon loses his momentum, or maybe his interest, and what could have been an action thriller to rival the best of Lee Child turns into a formulaic, predictable, frustrating mess.
Simon & Schuster appear to have looked at the name on the front of this manuscript, slapped a 24-like cover on the front, and thought “instant audience” (as a long time fan of the show, I am that instant audience), with nary a thought for actually reading what was inside, never mind assigning an editor or proof-reader. The book is littered with typos – from spelling mistakes that should have been picked up by any spell-checker, to the omniscient third-person narrator using “we” and “our” instead of “America” and “American” (most obvious in a sentence about how President Diggs was attempting to keep “our troops” out of any more conflicts). There is one point towards the end of the novel where I counted FOUR point-of-view shifts in the space of a single page, sometimes mid-paragraph, leaving the reader more than a little confused about whose head, exactly, we’re supposed to be in right now. And then, the coup de grace: within the first fifty pages, there are at least three attempts on Gideon Davis’ life, all masterminded by the Main Bad Guy, who feels Gideon is a viable threat to his plans. Shortly after his arrival on the oil rig, MBG has Gideon dead to rights, trapped in a small room with no way out, Gideon unarmed and MBG holding an AK-47 on him. And in true Dr Evil style, he decides not to kill him, but to lock him up with the rest of the hostages where he can plot further damage in the run-up to ending up in bed with the only female in a hundred-mile radius.
The scene from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery popped into my head as I read it, and I would have thrown the book across the room if I hadn’t already invested so much time in it:
Dr. Evil: All right guard, begin the unnecessarily slow-moving dipping mechanism.
[guard starts dipping mechanism]
Dr. Evil: Close the tank!
Scott Evil: Wait, aren’t you even going to watch them? They could get away!
Dr. Evil: No no no, I’m going to leave them alone and not actually witness them dying, I’m just gonna assume it all went to plan. What?
Scott Evil: I have a gun, in my room, you give me five seconds, I’ll get it, I’ll come back down here, BOOM, I’ll blow their brains out!
Dr. Evil: Scott, you just don’t get it, do ya? You don’t.
A great start leading to an ultimately poor debut for a man from whom I expected so much more. It’s an equally disappointing show from Simon & Schuster who could have improved it immensely if they’d only read it and provided feedback. If you’re tempted, save your money and pick up an 24 box set, where you’ll see Howard Gordon at his best.