The novel begins in Berlin in 1936, when Hitler, disappointed by the performance of some of the German athletes, is told by his advisers, who seek a plausible excuse, that the Americans have fortifying energy drinks. This drink gives them the energy to win. Despite the fact this is an utter lie, Hitler directs his scientists to develop such a drink.
Aiden McSwann, father of a child with a special problem, borrows money from the wrong people to pay for her medical care and ends up as a slave in a drug factory when he can’t repay the loan.
The member of a judo team, locked in a room by his teammates after his grandstanding costs them a tournament win, disappears in thin air.
Aiden McSwann’s wife is beaten and threatened by thugs, looking for something they think was left with her by the missing judo player.
Sir James Barscadden, once a respected billionaire, becomes involved in criminal activities, but manages to escape from England despite the best efforts of an MI5 team to capture him.
And this is the problem I had with this book: four full chapters of seemingly unrelated threads before the crux of the story begins in chapter 5. I was just a tad confused, and ended up rereading some of these chapters to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.
In chapter five, we learn that a research team has produced a new product it claims will boost the performance of every athlete in the world. The Lambeth Group, an investigative group within the British government, puts together a team using some of the MI5 agents and a scientist, Gavin Shawlins, to investigate the claim, which they believe is bogus. A top athlete using the product disappears, the product is stolen, and the team discovers the slave-run drug factory is involved. Then Shawlins himself disappears. Complicating the story is the fact a powerful US general has decided that Gavin must die to prevent exposure of a 60-year-old secret capable of world-changing and power-shifting events.
Despite the introduction of more governmental units than I could keep track of, the plethora of threads weaving in and out, and seemingly endless twists and turns, I was interested enough to finish the book. However, it was a challenge. There was an overwhelming amount of exposition and backstory to wade through all along the way, which tempted me to skip pages – but then I would miss yet another thread.
The basis of the plot is contemporary, the introduction of a historical context adds interest, and the author is a very good writer, which saved the book for me. I recommend it to any spy/thriller/ mystery/government conspiracy lover with a strong mental constitution. Would I be tempted to read another of his books – yes, I would, maybe the next one.
About the author:
Gordon Bickerstaff was born and raised in Glasgow but spent his student years in Edinburgh. He learned biochemistry, authored two biochemistry books and taught the subject until he retired to write fiction. He reports he has mastered plumbing and garden maintenance and other aspects of DIY, but gets very tired when it’s time to clean up the mess. He enjoys walking, 60s & 70s music, reading and travel.
He lives with his wife in the west of Scotland where corrupt academics, mystery, murder and intrigue occupy his thoughts. He is the author of the Gavin Shawlens series of thrillers: Deadly Secrets, Everything to Lose, and The Black Fox.
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