Wicked Game by Matt Johnston

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Title: Wicked Game

Author: Matt Johnson

Genre: Crime/Action/Thriller

Rating: *****

Review: As I have mentioned in previous reviews I love books that open with a prologue as they provide a bit of a teaser and some valuable backstory that can come into play later in the novel and a lot of readers will know I don’t read a lot of crime but I am trying to expand my reading horizons with this novel. And I can honestly say the beginning of this noel was amazing, it was so gripping, tense and suspenseful from the first page. It really sucked me in as a reader and intrigued me to read more.  I noticed three things within the first 10 pages; there are multiple points of view, multiple locations and various time settings – all of which I really like especially when executed astoundingly well. I loved the slightly sharp contrast between the short present set chapters and the slightly longer past chapters this allows us to be constantly drawn to the present while gaining valuable insight into the characters’ backgrounds and mind sets while reading thrown from one action packed situation to another. I also really enjoyed the Welsh setting in the Brecon Beacons which is only a short drive from me home. So reading these chapters I can also physically see and feel the environment I’m reading about which is a sure sign of attracted and keeping a readers’ attention.

I liked our protagonist Finley as he has a real get up and go attitude and an undeniable passion for his job for which he is constantly learning new skills and honing the ones he already possesses. I really enjoyed learning about the turbulent times in Ireland in the 1980’s and how Finley was involved in the siege of the Iranian embassy. I really enjoyed seeing the inside of military and police life and operations, I also enjoyed the fact it isn’t all action Johnson also draws on the more mundane things like meetings and paperwork and turns it into some very interesting reading. The storming of the Iranian Embassy was one of my favourite scenes as it is detailed from an inside and outside perspective from the same person because Finley has intimate knowledge of the situation yet he’s not taking part so he can retain some degree of obscurity and secrecy. One of the greatest things about this novel is the alternating points of view from Finley (the good guy) and Costello (the bad guy) and guessing how, why and when they would meet if they should do so. I really enjoyed trying to figure out who Costello’s target was early on as it wasn’t mentioned. With his personality it could have been any number of law enforcement agents. I really enjoyed Johnson’s writing style as well it was direct and clear while be suspenseful and exciting yet had an element of restraint to it like he could have gone even bigger and more dangerous but had to reign it in to keep it within the realms of reality. I also would also have liked this book more it has a fantasy element to it, but it works extremely well as a crime novel. As most readers will know the crime genre has been decimated with every idea being tried and re-tried over and over but I found Johnston’s writing to be a refreshing take on an overused and abused genre of literature.

I loved the inspired way at which Johnston looks at PTSD which can be commonly seen in soldiers today but during the setting of the novel there is still quite a lot of stigma around it even though it is becoming more publically known and black ops. Finley life also comes crashing down as he finds out that documents containing information about his previous life in the SAS have been stolen – a life which he has kept hidden from everyone including his wife. And to add to the poor man’s misery another solider from the SAS has just been assassinated allegedly by the IRA. I am now over a third into the novel which has been action packed from the start but the suspense has been ramped up as now Finley’s elaborate life of lies may just crumble and that could result not only in his own death but the death of his wife and 2 year old daughter Becky as well. I felt sorry for Finley but not greatly as his career choices have caused him to accept the possibility of his death and the different manners in which he may die but as in the case with other soldiers family make them vulnerable and soft and they then have something/someone to lose and someone they are willing to divulge secrets for and even die for. Close the halfway point in the novel Finley narrowly escapes a car bomb meant for his with some interest help surrounding that but he also realises he is going to have to tell his wife that he has been lying to her for years about his past and now it comes back to haunt him in a way that is endangering all of their lives but I have a feeling something tragic may strike our protagonist soon, whether it will be the death of another friend or his family is yet to be seen. I also have a feeling that Finley is going to be playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with the IRA as they have failed the kill him and that is going to only tempt Costello to push the boundaries even more.

A hell of a lot happens of the next chapters including Finley telling Jenny about the SAS and his past which is a very entertaining scene as she thinks Finley has been cheating on her when he was actually meeting Kevin. Another interesting things that happens is 2 different officers from the SAS raid ranked above Finley and Kevin are giving different account on the ROSE files’ theft and different opinions about who may hold those files now which makes me think one of them has to be lying and be the mole inside the SAS crew. Finley also finally agreed to help capture and/or kill the terrorists as he wants his family to lead a normal life which they cannot do running so Finley and Kevin are planning a two man stealth operation. Within this operation they hope to kill Dominic and capture Costello and torture him into talking about who hired him. The bombing in India in the prologue also comes into play during these discussions providing valuable links between the characters and recent events passed. We also learn that Costello is planning what he assumes to be the last hit but with the events of Finley’s attack which also killed the wrong person, Costello wants to hit him again but doubts he will get the chance but given how crazy we have seen Costello to be he will probably attempt it later on in the novel. We already know this novel is going to have a dramatic conclusion but now we are within the final third of the novel we are racing towards it at breakneck speed.

As we move through the intricately woven plot following in Finley’s every footstep as he learn who he can and can’t trust and what he must do in order to protect his family and hopefully live to tell the tale another day. As we move into the final 65 pages of this novel every details even the smallest things like a cat running from under a car and finely tuned into the dramatic conclusion to come very soon. As we move towards the conclusion there are several different forces at work working to the same known goal (Finley & the Police) to catch or kill the terrorists and one party with an unknown goal (Costello).  And the question still remains as to why the ex-SAS soldiers are being targeted or is there something larger at work.

The last 50 pages of this novel were absolutely astounding with all the little hints finally coming together to provide the reader with clarity in a stunningly written conclusion. The ending was far from what I expected started the book and completely took me by surprise which rarely happens every when reading novel designed to fool you into creating a completely different ending. The plot was very simple at its roots but all the plot twists and false hints create a very complex jigsaw puzzle which I found impossible to deceiver until the final pages. The characters were extremely well written with well thought out background that started at the same origin and veered over several different course making each one extremely unique. Some like Finley also have very complex personalities and though patterns which made them easy to relate to but at the same time extremely difficult to understand.  Overall I found the novel to be a great crime thriller which required a lot of research into the military and their procedures and practices to be executed to this extremely high standard and I would recommend to lovers of crime, thrillers. Even if you don’t normally read this genre like me give it a go because I guarantee you will love it.

This Book was sent to me for review by the author.

Buy it here:

Paperback: amazon.co.uk            amazon.com

Kindle Edition: amazon.co.uk      amazon.com


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