BOOK CLUB: BLACK 13

Author: Adam Hamdy
ISBN: 978-1509899128

Copy courtesy of Pan Macmillan (2020)

“Black 13” is a well-written thriller that uses many familiar tropes of the genre, but which is thoroughly contemporary in its’ concerns and plot.

Scott Pearce was unwillingly retired from MI6, and is spending his retirement chasing the lead that his superiors refused to believe in. His cover (and the lead) is blown by a mysterious woman who wants his help; he is forced into a corner where he has little choice but to help her to save himself. However, he’s soon invested for other reasons: something is rotten in the corridors of power, and the country he’s served all his life is at risk.

Pearce finds himself caught in a new kind of war. The rules are different or non-existent; it’s hard to know who or what to trust, and the established agencies are hampered by rules that haven’t caught up yet.

The main weakness in this novel was the link between what Pearce is doing as the novel opens, and the main plot. I never really felt I had a strong sense of what Pearce was following up, or why he was quite so obsessed with it. Neither did I feel a clear link was drawn between this and later events – it’s referred to, but didn’t come into focus for me.

However, if you don’t dwell on that one thing, this is a well-plotted novel where the main strands do come together convincingly. I could believe the motivations of everyone involved – good and bad – and found the plans of the bad guys all too credible. While this isn’t a “ripped from the headlines” story, it is consistent with current affairs and easy to imagine it playing out.

Many thrillers still find themselves a little behind the times, still telling the sorts of stories that could have come out of the Cold War. This is not necessarily bad, but it was refreshing to read a thriller that uses many of the tropes of those kinds of thrillers, but which focused on more current issues.

Pearce is a credible hero; he gets injured, he struggles, he is conflicted between the big picture and looking after his friends. At times I felt he was emotionally blank, but that could be deliberate on Hamdy’s part – a reflection of how Pearce needs to be to operate.

The other characters are generally convincing as well, as are their behaviour and motivations. Hamdy has a tendency towards infodump, particularly where he’s giving background information about a character. This can slow the action down – particularly in the first third of the novel – and there are more engaging ways to convey this information. However, this is a minor glitch in an otherwise strong novel.

I really enjoyed “Black 13”. I like thrillers, and this was the right mix of credible and imaginative. It’s clearly setting up for a sequel (or series), and I was pleased to see that – I’ll be looking out for the next novel. Readers who enjoy a good thriller but want to move on from the Cold War to contemporary issues will find this a real pleasure.

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading Black 13 by Adam Hamdy. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

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