Setting: It starts in London, but continues across Europe. The source of the trouble, however, is the Balkans.
Story: Edward Hammond, successful surgeon, used his medical skills to save the life of a Serbian gangster – Dragan Grazi – thirteen years ago. He was well paid, and has continued to prosper. Now, with Grazi on trial for war crimes at the international court in The Hague, that deed has come back to haunt him; the family are blackmailing him to help them track down Grazi’s money.
Good Stuff: The plot holds together reasonably well (if you accept the blackmail threat’s validity), and there are plenty of twists and turns. The author has done his research, and the book is full of seemingly realistic touches of local color, custom and practice throughout the many European settings.
Not So Good Stuff: Everything else? This is an awful book. It is stuffed full of pedestrian prose that goes out of its way to extract the tension from the drama, and convert the supposed thriller into a cure for insomnia. Goddard repeatedly comes up with good plot ideas, but his writing sucks the life out of his creation. The characters are largely off the shelf, wafer thin, cardboard cutouts. Hammond’s portrait is better, but insipid, and lacking a meaningful hint of realism. The dialogue lacks any edge, and if it conveys anything it’s a sense of a B-movie gone bad. The overwhelming reaction: who cares?
All was very different this chill, snow-blanked morning. Hammond made his way gingerly along the main path towards the office and apartment blocks of downtown Lugano that loomed ahead of him further round the bay. He was tired and cold, his stomach growling from lack of breakfast. The bag he was carrying and the smooth soles of his shoes prevented him from walking fast enough to warm himself up. He felt foolish as well as desperate. He should have found a way out of this long before now, he reflected bitterly, he really should.
I agree: he really should have found a way out long before. I stuck it through to the end; a tribute to my late mother’s continuing good influence. But it’s probably the last time I will buy one of Goddard’s books.