C.J. Anthony – Troubador Publishing – 10 July 2019 – 268 pages – Thriller
Ex-Army intelligence Danny Swift has always yearned to be an artist. By coincidence, he meets art dealer Hafiz De Mercurio who promises to help him launch his career. Little does Danny know that Hafiz hides behind a deadly cloak of deception until British intelligence recruit Danny, and his perilous mission is to covertly observe the elusive Hafiz. They believe something big is coming, something coordinated, a terror spectacular to rival anything seen before, and the key lies in a cypher hidden in works of art. Unable to refuse, Danny is drawn into a world he’d turned his back on, a world of lies, deception and double-dealing.
As the clock ticks down and Danny begins to crack the code surrounding the enigmatic Hafiz, Danny will be tested in ways he never imagined… including preventing the massacre of innocent people and artworks on display in the eleven Gagosian galleries around the world.
When this book came across my desk, the description of it really caught my attention. I thoroughly enjoy thrillers, especially ones that involve British intelligence, and the fact that this included the art world and a possible terrorist attack had me intrigued.
The story itself is very interesting, and I found myself continuing to read, despite some issues that I had with different aspects of it, because I wanted to know the conclusion of the story and how everything came together. I love how the author made the center point of the entire thing the art world, and how the different paintings were used as part of the plot, though I think the descriptions of them could have been better.
The setting of London, specifically places like Hafiz’s apartment, Bernadette’s gallery, and The Tate Modern Gallery, were well written. You almost felt like you were there as you read the story because of the detail that he included. For example, when Danny (the main character) visited the Tate Modern, there were groups of school children there, and the author pointed out that, because of these, it was easier for him to hide in plain sight, going with the flow of these groups as if he was part of them.
The characters, for the most part, kept me coming back for more, though I can honestly say I really didn’t care what happened to any of them as the story went on. It was more general curiosity of how the story would unfold, rather than an emotional connection to any of them, despite the fact that a good portion of the beginning of the novel is getting to know both the main character, a few of the side characters, and the art world itself. To me, the art world was more a character than a setting, and the best one at that.
Once Thom got involved, there was quite a bit of adventure, as Danny went from trying to prove Thom wrong to trying to stop things from happening, and parts of it were really good. Unfortunately, there were some parts that needed a better explanation, and therefore got confusing, leaving me unsure how Danny was coming to the conclusions that he was coming to. Specifically the cracking of the code. I had to go back and reread a couple of places after realizing that I’d missed something.
I enjoyed the conclusion of the story, but not the conclusion of the book. To me, the story ended with the terrorist plot being averted (I’m not giving anything away saying that, as it wouldn’t be a good book at all if everyone died in the end and the terrorists won), and although I didn’t like that it was just over and nothing really happened after that, I would have rather it ended that way, without all the extra things that happened in the end. Neither part really added to the story, and I couldn’t help but wonder, when the book concluded, if I had read the entire story wrong.
Danny was a bit of a let down. He’s supposed to be this ex-military intelligence guy, now artist, who has great potential as a character, but there’s just too many times that his behavior and attitude aren’t consistent with the type of background he has, or maybe not consistent with the way I expected him to be portrayed. He just happens to fall into this whole thing. After being quickly accepted and connecting, oddly enough, with this great art dealer, he’s immediately thrust into this art world, and then, because of his closeness with Hafiz, British intelligence reaches out to him for his help. There was too much whining, for lack of a better word. Too much bellyaching about the “predicament” he’s in. And then all the lovey-dovey longing for this woman he just met. It just felt so… forced. Like, they had to be in a relationship to continue the story. It didn’t feel fluid or real.
Hafiz was a bit of a letdown as well, and I think that was more upsetting to me than the letdown of Danny. He is another character that has such great potential, especially after an event at the beginning of the story that sort of pushes this whole thing along. Unfortunately, that event is only slightly touched upon through the rest of the story even though it is so very important. I wanted more from him.
The two female characters – Marina and Bernadette – were both perfectly perfect as perfect can be and mentioned often is their perfectly perfectness – too often. So often, in fact, that it becomes disgusting, annoying, and truly unbelievable. That’s really all you get to know about either of them, which is odd considering how integral they are to the story. The little bit we do find out about them is quickly dropped in favor of talking about how they look in their tight outfit of the moment and sex with them. It’s as if they hardly exist outside of how the men in the novel saw them, the sexual attraction, when both of them have careers and pasts that, had the author shared more about them and fleshed them out better, would have explained their motivations behind certain actions and choices they both make.
Thom, the British intelligence man, seemed very interesting, but he wasn’t around enough to really get to know him, which was strange, and a whole other complaint I have about this story.
Pros & Cons
The adventures that are undertaken throughout the story, and not just by Danny.
The Art World itself. I really enjoyed learning about the selling of art, the paintings, the artist who created these, and other aspects of the art world that I had previously not known. Because of the fact that he was using one character teaching things to another, it didn’t often feel like an information dump.
The description of the surroundings, as I stated above, were well done, as well as the details that he put into it. Sometimes the description helped you get to know the character a little better i.e. upon visiting Hafiz’s apartment, Danny could tell, before even coming to the door, the kind of mood the man was in based on how the shades were.
The paintings as part of the plot. That was very intriguing, though again, it could have been described a lot better.
A confusing timeline.
Disappointing altercation between the two females in the story. The confrontation between the two could have been so much better. It would have even given us a great opportunity to learn more about the two of them and, again, their motivations behind the choices they made.
The lack of real meat in the characters. Or maybe I should say meat that mattered. We have a lot of information about some, not near enough about others, but none of them felt like real people to me. As I stated above, I was reading to find out the end of the story and how we got there, not reading to find out what happened to the characters, and when things did happen to the characters, it wasn’t meaningful. There wasn’t enough depth to them to make me sad or angry or happy or upset or whatever when things happened to them.
The end of the book. Thinking about it now, I guess we can say that the author left it open for a second story, at least in some ways, but he didn’t leave it open in a way that made me want to read book two, if there is going to be one, to find out what happens. The ending is all wrapped up in this not-so-neat little package, with some of those conclusions feeling like puzzle pieces that don’t fit being forced to fit, even if one has to cut one of them to make it fit with the other.
The editing of the book was, for me, a shambles, and I brought this (with some specific points) up to the author. I put this at the end of my Cons because, as an editor, I have a harder time ignoring things that others might be able to just look past. I think the author’s editor did him and this book a disservice, and hopefully my notes were able to help the author out in the future.
All in all, I’d say it was a good debut novel, and I wouldn’t be opposed to reading his next piece when it is published. It had issues, but it also had things about it that made it worth reading until the end. The author has talent, and as he writes more, he will be able to hone in on ways that will make the story even better.