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by Duncan Falconer
Sphere, March 2011
400 pages
6.99 GBP
ISBN: 075153952X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This is the sixth book in the series about Special Boat Service operative, John Stratton, but lack of knowledge of the background was no particular hindrance. A much bigger obstacle to overcome was the extremely leaden prose of the opening paragraphs but once over that not-inconsiderable hurdle, the book does pick up pace as Stratton is sent on a risky mission into the icy waters of Sevastopol Harbour to obtain some surveillance footage of the underside of extremely well-protected ship that MI6 want to know more about. The operation doesn't go according to plan, and the hi-tech equipment he is given to use apparently fails. Afterwards, Stratton wonders if his bosses will use the problems as an excuse to keep him out of front-line work.

His suspicions are confirmed when he is sent on a visit to a top secret scientific establishment run by the shadowy MI16, the group who develop the sort of equipment that people like Stratton have to use in the field. While he is there, a massive oil platform in the North Sea is hijacked and the SBS team being sent in on a reconnaissance mission is caught in a lockdown in the MI16 base, leaving Stratton and an ill-assorted bunch of scientists as the only people in a position to try to save the crew of the oil platform.

The book romps from one high-action scene to the next, all of varying degrees of improbability. There are times when Falconer's writing is convincing and other times when the thread from which my disbelief was suspended became far too frayed for comfort, much like the safety line in the team's attempt to get out of a stormy sea and onto the oil platform itself. This is one of the scenes that I found the least believable, not least of which because I do have some experience of climbing the sort of flexible alloy caving ladder that Stratton and his companions were using.

One of Falconer's main flaws as a writer, apart from the occasional clumsy plot device, centres on his frequent point of view changes, which often take place in the same paragraph. I suspect this is a failed attempt at writing from the point of view of an omniscient narrator, often a difficult trick to pull off for the best of authors. As a result, action scenes often become hopelessly confused, and on a couple of occasions I had to back-track, just to work out who dies and who is still alive. But for all its faults, the book has enough energy to drag the reader along with it and I've certainly encountered worse central characters than John Stratton. I might even be tempted to make his acquaintance again.

Linda Wilson is a writer, and retired solicitor, with an interest in archaeology and cave art, who now divides her time between England and France.

Reviewed by Linda Wilson, March 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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