Source: Review copy
Publication: 20 August 2020 from Doubleday
6.45am. A sweltering London rush hour. And in the last 29 minutes, seven people have been murdered.
In a series of coordinated attacks, seven men and women across London have been targeted. For journalist Famie Madden, the horror unfolds as she arrives for the morning shift.
The victims have one thing in common: they make up the investigations team at the news agency where Famie works. The question everyone’s asking: what were they working on that could prompt such brutal devastation?
As Famie starts to receive mysterious messages, she must find out whether she is being warned of the next attack, or being told that she will be the next victim…
This is really quite a timely novel. Right now, journalists are under attack as never before. The rise of social media, fake news and the ability to instantly trash anyone whose opinions don’t reflect your own is taking its toll on the role of a free press and those who work for it. And that in turn is having a greater impact on the physical attacks on journalists than we have ever known. So far this year 21 journalists have been killed whilst on assignment, 9 of them murdered.
Frankly, it is worrying. And if freedom of speech is under threat, believe me when I tell you that democracy goes right under thereafter.
So, when Simon Mayo writes about seven journalists being targeted and killed within minutes of each other, the really sad truth is that I could see that happening. Just consider that for a moment. Fortunately, this is fiction and rather good fiction at that.
At the centre is journalist Famie Madden. She works for a large new bureau with an international reach – The International Press Service – a kind of alternative Reuters, if you will. Famie is really good at what she does, but she is really fed up at having to do it with fewer and fewer resources. Just as newspapers these days contain much less news and are produced by a handful of journalists, so the money to use news agencies to bring in strong stories has also diminished. Restructuring and ‘downsizing’ are now annual events and Famie has had it up to here.
Then seven of her colleagues are slain in separate knife attacks in London, within minutes of each other. It’s clearly a co-ordinated attack, but why? This team were in the midst of an investigation, and as is their norm, they kept the detail of that to themselves until they were ready to write it up. So there’s nothing in the system to help point the way to why this atrocity has occurred. Terrorism seems like a probable motive, but for Famie, these are her friends and colleagues. She also fears she could be targeted. It’s too much for her to bear and she’s had enough.
But someone is out there who wants her to investigate. Someone is sending her messages she has to try and make sense of. Because these killers haven’t stopped yet.
In an intense and thrilling read, it’s fair to say Mayo ‘s writing really caught me up in the story and as we learned more about the characters, both alive and those who were murdered, the motives got muddier before clarity was bestowed. As Famie starts to follow the sparse trail left by her unknown communicator, her own life and that of her daughter is put under threat and she has to keep moving to have any chance of feeling safe. Nor can the police protect her; their advice to stay put is clearly useless once she discovers that her flat has been ransacked when she should have been at home had she followed their advice.
In the main the pace is good, though it is slow to start and dips somewhat in the middle section, but the story is compelling and the subject matter fascinating as Famie thinks her way round the various terror groups across the world.
As well as Famie’s perspective, we get another, very different view of what is going on. One that is at the heart of the group that instigated these actions. That perspective lends a really chilling element to the book and as the plot develops we are left in no doubt as to the serious intent behind the responsible individuals. The plot becomes even more tense and as the action centres on Coventry and all the principal characters take their places, the stage is set for a stunning and violent climax that carries with it some surprises.
Verdict: This is the first Simon Mayo book I have read and I thought it was both gripping and exciting as well as having that strong and chilling contemporary slant on domestic terrorism. I’d certainly read another. Recommended.
Simon Mayo is a writer and broadcaster. He is the presenter of the podcast Simon Mayo’s Books of the Year, a daily host on Scala Radio and co-presenter of Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review for the BBC. His previous books include Mad Blood Stirring, Blame and the Itch trilogy, filmed for TV by ABC. Knife Edge is his debut contemporary thriller.