A former British soldier’s assignment to investigate an experimental drug becomes a hostage-rescue mission in Maslen’s (Trigger Point, 2015) thriller.
Gabriel Wolfe is still tormented by his decision, while he was in the Special Air Service, to leave dead trooper Mickey “Smudge” Smith behind in the Mozambique jungle. While shaken by a vision of Smudge, he sprints out of an art gallery and gets run down by a delivery truck driving on the wrong side of the road. He wakes up from a 19-day coma at a hospital for veterans, his care courtesy of his former commanding officer, Don Webster. Don now runs a counterterrorism unit and wants Gabriel to look into something called “Gulliver,” a performance-enhancing drug that Dreyer Pharma is developing. Military Typhoon pilots who’ve taken the drug, including Gabriel’s hospital roommate Tom Ainsley, have hallucinated and gone blind, and some have died in resultant crashes. The upcoming Farnborough Airshow, during which Dreyer will demonstrate Gulliver, could prove lethal. However, Dreyer CEO James Bryant is staving off any investigations, yielding to demands from Chechen terrorists led by Kasym Drezna, who’s holding James’ wife, Sarah, and daughter, Chloe, captive. Kasym wants the air show to fail in order to discredit the drug, so that the Chechens can make a move against potential Gulliver buyer Oleg Abramov. Man-of-action Gabriel could resolve everything, though, by saving the Bryant women. Maslen introduced Gabriel’s Smudge-related back story in the preceding novel, and this time Gabriel seeks professional help for what’s likely PTSD. It’s a welcome vulnerability for the recurring protagonist, who’s seemingly undefeatable in physical altercations. Gabriel also dabbles in espionage here, adopting the persona “Terry Fox” to inquire covertly about Chechens in Estonia and forming an unsteady alliance with Russian mobster Yuri Volkov. It’s more than halfway into the book before Gabriel considers saving the hostages, but Maslen wisely provides the perspective of Sarah and Chloe, who fight back and attempt escape rather than sit idly by. The story is occasionally plodding, particularly when readers are steps ahead of Gabriel; for example, they’ll easily decipher quick-witted Chloe’s message, which she hides in a video. Nevertheless, the narrative ends by teasing even more adventures for Gabriel in the future.
A sometimes-slow series installment, but one that continues to develop its rugged hero.