Payload by K.D. Adamson


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London investigators look into possible corporate fraud involving a shipping company that may retain secrets by resorting to murder in this debut thriller.

While hijacking one of Han Chan Lines’ ships, Somali pirates kill Chief Engineer Stephen Desmond, a rather calculated act akin to an execution. This is suspect because Desmond was a proposed whistle-blower who’d compiled evidence for journalist Sarah Grelsham: in a case of potential fraud, HCL’s allegedly been slowing vessels intentionally to allow pirates to board. Sarah hasn’t received said evidence yet, but her ensuing disappearance could mean that someone’s covering his or her tracks. Lloyd’s and managing agent Verre Slater enlist corporate adviser Laughton MacAllister—specifically, Michael Leithead’s team. Members include former Fraud Squad detective Manon Wyn Roberts and Drew Rydstrom, once in the Royal Australian Navy but later pulled from a Nigerian jail by Michael. The team searches for Desmond’s reputed evidence, as well as another, unknown individual in whom the engineer confided, while a couple of relevant bodies turn up. The killer(s) could be anyone from HCL, with probable links to drugs and Mafia-esque Chinese Triads, or Gyrescom, a maritime satellite communications company HCL uses. The investigators, however, may likewise be in danger when one of them, trying to reach a contact for information, becomes a target himself. Considering its global plot, Adamson’s story is surprisingly simple. Readers, for example, know who the villains are and whom they’ve tortured and killed well before Drew and others discover anyone’s dead. Fortunately, this gives rise to pure suspense, with Drew and Manon often unaware they’re in the presence of a murderer. Characters, in contrast, are gloriously complex, especially the somewhat murky good guys. Investigator Diego da Souza’s a hacker who enjoys snapping upskirt photos, while team newbie Manon’s facing trouble for old boss and lover Greg Hart’s illicit deeds—and an affair with a pregnant celebrity’s husband has turned Manon into the nation’s antagonist. Still, it’s clearly a team of heroes, as the band ultimately pursues the mysterious Puppet Master truly in control. Violence is generally unflinching but doesn’t quite prepare readers for a startling, unforgettable ending.

A global fraud tale remains laudable in its frankness; it’s not what the baddies are hiding, but the frightening lengths they’ll go to stay in power.

Publisher: Constance
Program: Kirkus Indie
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