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by Quintin Jardine
Headline, December 2003
256 pages
ISBN: 0755309413

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Quintin Jardine, like Ian Rankin, is a Scot. He tells the tale against himself of awaiting the arrival of a plumber one day only to discover the plumber's name was Rebus! He does not appear to be waiting long for success in Rankin's wake, however, as he regularly makes the bestseller lists with his crime thrillers.

Pushed into writing his first novel by his disgust with a mediocre tale which he read while at his Spanish villa, the former journalist decided to write a crime fiction book which he was sure would be better than the one he disdained. It is obvious he has succeeded. That first novel was SKINNER'S RULES, which was published in 1993, years subsequent to Ian Rankin's debut. There is no doubt Jardine is fast overtaking Rankin in the popularity stakes so that soon, perhaps, Detective Inspector Rebus might be looking to Bob Skinner as his superior officer.

Jardine's books include two series, that featuring Bob Skinner and the other, of which UNNATURAL JUSTICE is one, starring Oz Blackstone. There is a minor intersection of the two since Oz Blackstone, a movie actor, as an in-joke, has a part in a movie made of the Skinner series. As a journalist, Jardine had ample opportunity to rub shoulders with men on either side of the law. As an adviser, he was well-placed to observe the machinations of political figures. He takes advantage of both these vantage points to write about what he has observed over the years, incorporating his knowledge into his two series.

Jardine has not been kind to Oz Blackstone. The protagonist is arrogant, selfish, amoral and full of himself. Of course, he is a film star. Jardine has also visited on the hapless Oz a series of bereavements. His much-loved wife, Jan, was murdered prior to the beginning of this book which is more of a business thriller than a whodunnit. The new Mrs Blackstone is Susie Gantry, principal of a construction group. Oz is a member of her board but Susie looks as though she may soon absent herself from business proceedings as she is pregnant with their second child and must take maternity leave.

Oz, at the beginning of the book, spends an inordinate amount of time putting the reader, who may not have read previous books, in the picture about his antecedents, character and present success. Shadows are soon cast over the happiness of the Blackstone (or Gantry) duo. Oz is contacted by his father, Mac the Dentist (Susie's baby-to-be is constantly referred to throughout the tale by Oz as 'wee Mac') whom Oz idolises.

Mac tells Oz that one of his patients is blackmailing him. She and her husband have accused Mac of a sexual assault on the woman while Mac had her anaesthetised, a crime of which Mac is completely innocent. Oz commissions his driver/bodyguard to 'take care' of the blackmailing pair but is horrified when they turn up dead and Jay, his driver, refuses to discuss his way of dealing with the problem.

Susie's biological father Joe Donn, dies, leaving a vacancy for a non-executive director on the board of the Gantry group. There are all kinds of intricate circumstances surrounding share holdings in the Gantry firm, including the status of the shares of Jack Gantry, former Lord Provost of Glasgow and officially Susie's father, but now institutionalised as criminally insane.

To add to the Blackstones' woes, the Gantry group is suddenly the object of a hostile takeover by a stationery company run by a woman who, although having attempted to seduce Oz, now has little cause to love him. Soon it becomes apparent that someone is forcing down the share price of the Gantry group , a move that would make a takeover less expensive than at the usual price. It also becomes apparent that Susie's appointment to her board is far from intent on behaving in a manner advantageous to his supposed boss.

The story abounds in perils for all the characters. Oz must balance his cinematic career against the demands of his and his wife's business life. He must also discover who the shadowy figure behind the figurehead of the hostile takeover bid really is. The action travels erratically from England to various loci around Scotland and back again. The apparent character and motives of some of the players is constantly changing and the reader is left as breathless and bewildered as Blackstone himself.

While there may be a bit too much emphasis for the business-challenged reader on the financial aspects of the tale, there is no doubt the whole is exciting. The mind boggles at just how Blackstone is to dispose of the Gantry group's Nemesis, once his identity is uncovered.

I noted with interest a coincidence between one of Ian Rankin's methods of disposing of corpses and one of Jardine's, as evidenced in this novel, and wondered if it might have been a joke on Jardine's part. Regardless, the work of the two authors is quite dissimilar but almost equally involving. Jardine deserves his status in modern Scottish literature as one of its notables.

Reviewed by Denise Wels Pickles, January 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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