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by Stephen Leather
Hodder and Stoughton, March 2004
384 pages
ISBN: 0340831766

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Stephen Leather has moved around the world. Despite studying Biochemistry at the University of Bath in the UK he became a journalist. His work took him to Asia and, having managed to write his first book PAY OFF whilst working as a journalist in England, his second book, THE FIREMAN was written when he was working for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. In 1992 he forsook professional journalism and settled down to writing fiction full-time. His thrillers are more usually renowned for being on an international scale: HARD LANDING is in a far more confined setting!

Bob Macdonald is involved in an armed holdup that goes wrong. It becomes far more violent than Verity, the organiser, had promised. Victims are splashed with petrol while being threatened with fire. Then someone shoots at a policeman. Macdonald finds himself on remand in jail and refuses to cooperate with the authorities to the extent of not even giving them his name. Then, unexpectedly and apparently uninvited, a lawyer arrives for Macdonald and the reader learns Macdonald's true identity: Daniel Shepherd, undercover policeman.

A big-time drugs importer, Gerry Carpenter, is an inmate in the same prison. There is a strong case against him, built up by undercover customs officers as well as undercover policemen. One of the officers who had been trusted by Carpenter is murdered and another officer threatened, despite being moved with his wife and children to a safehouse. It is Shepherd's responsibility to get close to Carpenter and discover how the criminal is getting his orders out to his minions and just who will be the next victim.

It soon becomes obvious to Shepherd that some of the prison guards must be corrupt. Carpenter is patently in charge of the prisoners and a lot of the staff. How could that situation have developed? Shepherd makes his mark within the prison community as a hard man, one with whom it would not be wise to trifle. The law enforcement officer risks discovery and injury as he seeks to preserve the case against Carpenter but he discovers the safety of his own family may be threatened.

Because of its setting, the tale is somewhat claustrophobic. There is violence in abundance and it is difficult to develop the empathy required with both Shepherd and Carpenter as good family men. It is quite customary in thrillers to have doubts as to which characters, exactly, are the goodies and which the downright baddies but this book seems to contain an over-abundance of the corrupt.

As the danger to Shepherd increases and he seeks to escape it without further putting his family at risk, the author presents a situation which I am afraid I could not believe in the slightest. I realise that fiction means a willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader but I couldn't muster sufficient belief for that particular thread!

The book is indeed an exciting one. I do not deny that. It is engrossing and well-written but oh, those proof-readers! The book is riddled with errors, not only typographical but also incongruities in the action. In one scene the author has a woman go into the kitchen to make tea yet she is still in the room and contributing to the conversation. Then she appears in the doorway carrying the tea things. One wonders if so many flaws have been permitted to creep in just how many were present in the first draft! These things having been said, I enjoyed the book and will gladly read Leather's next opus. I just hope Hodder gets competent copy editors onto the work before releasing it!

Reviewed by Denise Wels Pickles, March 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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