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Ratcatcher (John Purkiss Thriller Book 1) Kindle Edition
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You see, I am a sucker for a good series: there is something so comfortable about slipping into a yarn with familiar characters. So it was with happy anticipation that I picked up the Kindle versions of all three John Purkiss stories by Stevens a couple of weeks ago.
I am here to tell you that I was more than satisfied when I finished tearing through them in a two-day espionage bender.
Stevens, a National Health physician in England, cranks out just about as good a spy tale as anybody in the racket.
In his "ratcatcher" books, the protagonist John Purkiss is a British intelligence agent who hunts other spies who have gone wrong. Purkiss works "off the books" -- the Queen pays the bills, but his counter-intelligence position is not officially affiliated with MI5, MI6 or any other British espionage agency.
Purkiss is the kind of guy you could enjoy meeting for a pint. When he runs after an enemy, he gets tired; when he gets hit in the head, he gets a headache and bleeds. He doesn't win every fight he's in and he doesn't always hit what he is shooting at. But he out-thinks his opponents sufficiently to keep the baddies in check.
In Ratcatcher, the first of the series, Purkiss is sent to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, to look for a former colleague who murdered another agent but was released from prison after serving only a tiny part of his sentence. MI believes the baddie plans to disrupt a ceremonial meeting in which the presidents of Russia and Estonia will announce a rapprochement.
What complicates the situation is that the spy Purkiss is chasing is a former friend -- and the agent he killed was Purkiss's fiancé. In addition, our ratcatcher is opposed by a cabal of former Soviet army officers who appear to be pursuing their own plot to disrupt the meeting. To make things even worse, British intelligence already has a team working in Tallinn that seems likely to get in Purkiss's way -- and may be compromised by a traitor inside its ranks.
Like any good espionage thriller, the book has more double crosses than a genetics laboratory and nobody appears to be who they say they are. It is difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys until the final pages, and everybody in play but Purkiss could conceivably be a villain out to wreck the ceremony, assassinate one or both of the statesmen and kill our ratcatcher in the process.
Stevens has a sure hand for the cliffhanger and is deft at keeping the reader flipping those pages. His characters sound like real people, which is crucial in building verisimilitude. What's more, Stevens has something you can't get by sitting in the military reading room at the library and studying Jane's Infantry or Naval Weapons: excellent timing. His action zips along at a clip spritely enough to keep the reader from looking for plot weaknesses, characterization flaws, physically impossible action and other road-bumps that often show up in this type of book.
He doesn't suffer from Tom Clancy disease, either: his descriptions of weapons, gadgetry and pieces of military technology -- there is a doozy of the latter in Ratcatcher -- are kept mercifully short and succinct. In fact, he keeps descriptions of all sort tight and forces them to carry their weight in the narrative. This makes sense, because Stevens can sketch a scene better in a trim and muscular sentence or two than many other writers can using an entire chapter.
And while a lot of page-turners depend on insanely complicated plots or unbelievably quirky protagonists to hold the reader's interest, Stevens gets our attention the old fashioned way: by filling his stories with exceptional writing.
If you are looking for a spy thriller with plenty of action, intrigue and suspense, Ratcatcher is just what the doctor ordered -- and Dr. Stevens is just the practitioner you want administering the dose.
This is low grade ore, devoid of any discernible nuggets of humour, insight or credibility.
However, it was a freebie, and I did make it to the end- real stinkers can.t even manage to generate that degree of interest. There are plenty worse than this -but that isn't much to shout about.
Okay, one big complaint is overuse of the phrase "his/her legs pistoned". It occurs several times with several characters, and got tiresome.
Let me add, just the choice of the name, "John Purkiss" was so refreshing instead of typical hero names ala' "Biff Bradstreet", Peter Derringer", "Dirk Steel", and the like. These characters seemed as though they might exist. I hope their situations don't!
A very worthwhile read.