So after Rod Reynolds reviewed Red Rising the next author I bribed, erm asked politely, to read something out of their comfort zone was the brilliant David Young – author of Stasi Child. Turns out he was already reading something that he would not normally pick up – Matt Johnson’s Wicked Game – so this was the novel we went with and it seems that once again this whole experiment worked out well. So over to David to talk about the experience….
Reading Outside my comfort zone: Wicked Game – David Young.
One of the great thrills of being a newly-published author is when a rival publisher asks you to read one of their books with a view to giving an endorsement quote for the cover or back of the book.
It’s quite humbling that they value your opinion, and slightly embarrassing to think that your name is even worth putting on their book.
That said, I’m not world’s biggest reader, by any means. I find it hard to break out of my six novels a year average – most of those read lying on a beach when on holiday.
So, reading only a few books a year, I stick to what I know I like. Usually fiction set in Europe or the former Soviet Union, probably historical but not too historical, with perhaps a dash of crime. What I tend to steer clear of are stories that are in any way linked – if you like – to ‘The News’, the sort you might see on the BBC or ITV’s main bulletin. When I was working in the BBC international TV and radio newsrooms, it was because – in reading a novel – I wanted to escape from the day job. Now, having given up the day job thanks in part to the success of my debut novel, Stasi Child, I don’t desperately want to be reminded about it!
That means I tend to avoid SAS-thrillers, modern war thrillers, terrorism thrillers. So it was with some trepidation that I started to read Matt Johnson’s Wicked Game, sent to me by the Orenda Publisher (and one of The Bookseller’s 2016 Rising Stars), Karen Sullivan.
Karen insisted I’d love it, wanted a potential cover quote, and if I did enjoy the book – in fact she said only if I ‘really loved it’ — she wanted me to host a Q&A with Matt at his launch at Waterstones in Piccadilly.
What worried me were some of the words in the blurb: ‘SAS regiment’, ‘bomb blast’, ‘Royalty Protection Squad’. It seemed like exactly the sort of book I’d usually shy away from.
However, the circumstances in which Matt came to write it – as therapy for PTSD diagnosed as a result of his exposure to deaths and bombings when a police officer in London (including the killing of his friend, WPC Yvonne Fletcher) – did intrigue me, so I thought I ought to give it a fighting chance.
And I’m very glad I did, because it’s excellent – and that’s not just my opinion, it’s recently been longlisted for the CWA John Creasey Dagger for debut crime novels.
What shines through in Wicked Game is its authenticity – something perhaps only a former member of the armed forces and police (and Matt ticks both of those boxes) could achieve.
That’s most evident in the first third of the novel. It’s quite a weighty, slowish start, with oodles of background information – but I rather liked that, and read it much as I would a non-fiction book. I could imagine some readers being tempted to give up at this stage, but if they did they’d miss a treat, as the story really kicks in from about a third of the way in – and then it’s a thrill-a-minute ride to the end.
I was worried that in Matt being ex-police and ex-army, the story might be too pro-establishment for my liking. But what I liked about Wicked Game is that Matt does try to get inside the head of his terrorist characters, to see what makes them tick.
Overally, I thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel – even though I was reading outside my usual genre.
This is my quote that appears on the book, and I stand by every word: ‘Out of terrible personal circumstances, Matt Johnson has written a barnstormer of a thriller. Nothing is clear-cut in a gripping labyrinthine plot, which – despite thrills and spills aplenty – never fall short of believable’.
It was relegated to the back cover, but then you can’t win them all. And the quote that was used on the front was from Peter James, and if he loves your novel (which he did) then you know you’ve written something special.
Find out more about David here
Follow David on Twitter here.
You can purchase Stasi Child by clickety clicking right HERE
East Berlin, 1975
When Oberleutnant Karin Müller is called to investigate a teenage girl’s body at the foot of the wall, she imagines she’s seen it all before. But when she arrives she realises this is a death like no other: the girl was trying to escape – but from the West.
Müller is a member of the national police, but the case has Stasi written all over it. Karin is tasked with uncovering the identity of the girl, but her Stasi handlers assure her that the perpetrators are from the West - and strongly discourage her asking questions.
The evidence doesn’t add up, and Muller soon realises the crime scene has been staged. But this is not a regime that tolerates a curious mind, and Muller doesn’t realise that the trail she’s following will lead her dangerously close to home . . .
Read my review of Stasi Child HERE
Find out more about Matt here:
Follow Matt on Twitter here:
To purchase Wicked Game clickety click HERE
2001. Age is catching up with Robert Finlay, a police officer on the Royalty Protection team based in London. He’s looking forward to returning to uniform policing and a less stressful life with his new family. But fate has other plans. A policeman is killed by a bomb blast, and a second is gunned down in his own driveway. Both of the murdered men were former Army colleagues from Finlay’s SAS regiment, and a series of explosive events makes it clear that he is not the ordinary man that his colleagues and new family think he is. And so begins a game of cat and mouse in which Finlay is forced to test his long-buried skills in a fight against a determined, unidentified enemy.
Read my review of Wicked Game HERE