The Blurb On The Back:
From the refugee camps of Greece to the mountains of Macedonia, a thirteen-year-old boy is making his way to Germany and safety. Codenamed ‘Firefly’, he holds vital intelligence about a vicious ISIS terror cell and its plans to strike at the heart of Europe. But the terrorists are hot on his trail.
When MI6 becomes aware of Firefly and what he knows, Luc Samson, ex-MI6 agent and expert at finding missing persons, is recruited to locate Firefly and get him to safety before the terrorists find him and kill him.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
Officially, Luc Samson is a businessman who runs an import/export business from an office he shares with his mother (who runs a successful Lebanese restaurant in London). Unofficially, he works as a freelance security consultant who specialises in finding and recovering people from conflict zones, utilising the skills he picked up working for MI6 until their discovery that he liked to gamble huge amounts of money resulted in his employment being terminated. Recently he’s been engaged by the private security agency Macy Harp trying to uncover the whereabouts of Ayel Hisami, a doctor who was working with the Kurdish Peshmerga until capture by ISIS fighters saw her sold into slavery and who happens to be the sister of billionaire tech investor Denis Hisami who will do whatever it takes to get her back.
Then MI6 come knocking on Luc’s door. They want him to look for a 13-year-old exceptionally intelligent Syrian boy who they believe can identify for them a notorious ISIS commander known by the nom-de-plum Al-munajil (Machete) who has committed a number of massacres in Syria and has recently been spotted in a Lesbos refugee camp. The problem is that MI6 don’t know the boy’s name and they don’t have a location for him as he too fled the Lesbos camp. All they know is that he’s likely to be on the refugee trail heading through Greece to northern Europe and they need Luc to find him so they can capture Al-munajil before he commits any more terrorist atrocities …
Henry Porter’s standalone spy thriller is a timely affair set against the backdrop of the European migration crisis and taking on board the horrors perpetrated by ISIS during the Syrian civil war. However although Porter has clearly done his research, the characters here (with the exception of Naji) have a stock feel to them and the plot is predictable, so that while I did keep turning the pages, I wasn’t as gripped as I wanted to be.
The main issue for me in the book is that Luc Samson read as a character you see all the time in spy thrillers – smart, resourceful and at times just plain lucky – and although Porter tries to round him out by giving him the (controlled) gambling habit and a Lebanese refugee background (which adds to his empathy for the refugees) I just felt that I had read too many books with characters like him. It’s not that he’s badly written or unbelievable (I did like how Porter avoids going down the road of making him an invincible fighter and has him make mistakes) but he’s too much out of the stock catalogue. This is especially highlighted in his relationship with the intelligent and (naturally) beautiful child psychologist Anastasia Christakos who knows Naji from the Lesbos camp and helps children come to terms with all that they have witnessed and experienced and who – naturally – can accept Luc for the dynamic man he is and is more than happy with a no strings relationship while all the time supporting him and cheering him on.
By contrast Naji is given more depth. I enjoyed the resourcefulness that Porter gives him and although I found his tech wizardry skills a little far-fetched Porter is sensitive in showing the hardships he has been through and the psychological toll that they have taken while also balancing it out by showing the mistakes in judgment which the boy (understandably in the circumstances) has made. Naji’s budding friendship with Ifkar is well drawn and I also thought Porter did well at showing the conflicts, betrayals and friendships formed on the road between refugees and migrants and especially at the poor treatment they experience at the hands of border patrols and army guards.
The plot itself is fairly predictable, complete with near misses and encounters with Al-munajil (a two-dimensional terrorist stereotype distinguished only by his damaged vocal chords) and his interchangeable henchmen and while Porter writes in a pacey way, there are no real surprises here. As such, although I did keep turning the pages, I did not find myself as gripped by the book as I wanted to be, although this would definitely not stop me from checking out Porter’s other work.
Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.