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by Gerald Seymour, read by Jonathan Aris
Whole Story Audio Books, July 2012
Unabridged pages
25.52 GBP
ISBN: 1471203042

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Gerald Seymour's THE OUTSIDERS manages to be both a blast from the past and bang up to date – both at the same time.

MI5's Winnie Monks and her team of spies feel like they've wandered in from the pages of a John Le Carré novel. But they're firmly in the 21st century as Seymour unleashes them on the network of organised crime that spans Europe.

Winnie is definitely one of the old school. Some years on, she hasn't forgotten the death of Damien Fenby, one of her now disbanded team. So when clues appear to the identities of the Russians who kicked him to death, she summons her former colleagues from the depths of exile in dingy government offices or at Scotland Yard. Their mission takes them to Spain's Costa del Sol where aging London villains live cheek by jowl with the Eastern European hitmen to whom violence seemingly comes as easily as breathing.

Seymour keeps a tight hand on his sprawling tale, which also encompasses the Russian major, his sidekicks and their computer geek, and the young Brit house-sitters Jonno and Posie, who end up with a holiday they hadn't bargained on – and find that their new neighbours, who seemed so friendly, have a gruesome use for garden equipment.

The action criss-crosses Europe from London to Spain to far-flung corners of the old Soviet Union. Seymour, a former TV journalist, can tell a damn good yarn, and THE OUTSIDERS kept me hooked from the start. But his writing often lacks polish. His dialogue tends towards the information dump at times, as does a clumsy final chapter. And his inelegant variations – characters' full names and rather self-conscious tags (the Major, the Master Sergeant, the Warrant Officer, the Latvian officer) – jar after a while.

Characterisation is uneven as well – I'm still unconvinced by the motives and actions of two of the key characters at the end of the book. The real weak link, though, is Winnie and her team. Whereas Seymour attempts to flesh out second-tier characters like police photographer Snapper, former sniper Sparky and old-time London villain Mikey, the seeming leading lady gets a raw deal. She's Welsh, she smokes cigarillos, she cusses a lot. And that's about my only abiding memory of her. There's no clue as to why her team put their careers at risk to follow her to the ends of the earth.

Ironically, she's probably not helped by a rather eccentric rendition by narrator Jonathan Aris, who's one of those male narrators who can't quite pitch women's voices convincingly, and makes her sound like she's escaped from Under Milk Wood. Aris is a safe pair of hands otherwise with a crisp, businesslike delivery, but I'm inclined to think with most audiobook characters that less is most probably more when it comes to convincing readings.

§ Sharon Wheeler is a UK-based journalist, writer and lecturer.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, September 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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