|THE FREEDOM BROKER
K.J. Howe (www.kjhowe.com)
Eight-year-old Thea Paris watched as her older brother was kidnapped in front of her. Twenty years later, driven by the feeling of helplessness that still haunts her, Thea is one of the most respected and elite kidnap and ransom consultants in the world. So, when her father, self-made oil millionaire Christos Paris, is kidnapped, Thea can’t help but be in the middle of the efforts to retrieve him. Along with teammate Rifat Asker and with the help of Federal Agent Gabrielle Farrah, Thea finds herself at the centre of a tense international political situation, while people all around are trying to hurt or kill her to keep her off her father’s trail.
K.J. Howe’s debut novel introduces us to kick-ass heroine Thea Paris by throwing us into the middle of the action as she and her team make a rescue attempt in Nigeria. This first chapter also sets the tone for much of what is to follow. Despite having Type 1 diabetes, Thea is an all-action, no-nonsense field agent who isn’t shy about getting into the middle of the action. Think of a female Jason Bourne, and you’re not too far off the mark. What’s striking about this character is how much background, how much life Howe invests her with. Here is a strong-willed woman who, despite her illness has risen to the very top of her game, one of a handful of elite K&R consultants who operate at the highest level. There’s history, too, between her and Rifat Asker, something of a loose cannon for whom she cares a lot, despite the constant bickering between them. There’s plenty of sexual chemistry here, but Howe keeps it on the leash throughout, so that while it simmers constantly in the background, it never becomes something that can be used against Thea, a MacGuffin that dictates the story’s climax.
The other characters are equally well-drawn, from Rif, through Christos, the son of a poor Greek fisherman who built an empire from next to nothing, and his son Nikos, a man who seems not entirely trustworthy from the moment we meet him. It is obvious that his kidnapping twenty years earlier has had a massive impact on the man he is today, and as the story progresses it becomes increasingly apparent – to everyone except Thea – that there is more to him than meets the eye. At core, The Freedom Broker is a story about family, and about the complex relationships that we form within that exclusive unit: the lengths some will go to in order to help others, and the masks we wear, even when we are with those closest to us.
As important as the characters are, the locations that form the often-tropical backdrop to the story also play a very important role. From the shores of Santorini to the fictional African nation of Kanzi, through London, Athens and Zimbabwe, Howe ensures that the user is always aware of their surroundings, building a pervasive sense of place into the narrative the allows the reader to feel that they are by Thea’s side as she navigates her way through this most difficult of cases.
I mentioned Jason Bourne earlier, and it’s not a bad comparison. Like Ludlum’s classic novels, the action starts on the first page and barely lets up until the story is told. Thea can hold her own, never once playing damsel in distress, and the respect she is accorded by her colleagues and teammates shows that her status within the K&R community has been hard-won and is well-deserved. Her diabetes, which she keeps secret from everyone except her father and brother, is just one more obstacle she has managed to clear on her way to the top. In a world that needs more female role models, Thea Paris is the perfect protagonist and her appearance on the scene could not have been better-timed. This is a strong debut by a skilled and well-informed writer and promises much for future instalments of the series.
An action-packed debut from K.J. Howe, The Freedom Broker sets a new standard for the thriller genre. Tightly-plotted and well-researched, it puts us in the company of interesting and identifiable characters in a handful of exotic locations, and takes our breath away with every turn of the page. Howe promises at least one more book about Thea Paris, but I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping that there are many more to come. One of the best thrillers of the year so far, it’s perfect for anyone who enjoys spending time on the edge of their seat.