Reconstruction by Mick Herron

The Blurb On The Back:

What should have been a simply pick-up turns into a day-long nightmare for Bad Sam Chapman.

When an operational catastrophe puts a gun in the hands of a young man who then breaks into South Oxford Nursery School and take a group hostage, teacher Louise Kennedy fears the worst.  But Jaime Segura isn’t there on a homicidal mission, and he’s just as scared as those whose lives he holds as collateral.

As an armed police presence builds outside the school’s gates, Bad Sam Chapman – head of the intelligence services’s internal security force, the Dogs – battles the clock to find out what Jaime is after, before those who are after Jamie find him first …

You can buy RECONSTRUCTION by Mick Herron from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s 3rd April 2007.  

Louise Kennedy (a former international banker now working as a kindergarten teacher at the South Oxford Nursery School after her affair with her boss didn’t work out as she’d planned) is preparing for another day.  She’ll be looking after the place on her own today, as her boss Claire has an appointment.  It does mean dealing with Judy Ainsworth (a bitter, late middle-aged cleaner who fell on hard times after her husband’s death in a car accident), but Louise has her measure.  She’s less keen to see Eliot Pedlar (a publisher whose ruing a marriage and family that no longer feels like his), who’s the the father of Timmy and Gordon (twin 4-year-old pupils) with whom she had an indiscretion that he, worryingly, seems to want to continue.

Meanwhile ‘Bad’ Sam Chapman (Head of the Dogs – the intelligence services’ internal security force) and Neil Ashton are in Oxford looking to pick up Jaime Segura, the young boyfriend of Miro Weiss (an accountant who worked as an analyst for the security services).  Weiss has gone missing – as has a quarter of a billion pounds of money intended for Iraqi reconstruction.  But the operation goes wrong, Ashton is severely injured and loses his gun and Segura gets away.

Ben Whistler is a colleague of Miro Weiss and is looking forward to another dull day of financial analysis when he’s pulled into his boss’s office and told there’s been a change of plan: he’s to get on a helicopter and head to Oxford.  Because Jaime Segura has taken hostages at the South Oxford Nursery School and has said that Ben is the only person he’ll talk to …

Mick Herron’s deftly plotted, taut spy thriller (set within the same world as the JACKSON LAMB SERIES and featuring bit player Sam Chapman) is a sophisticated ensemble piece set against the backdrop of post invasion Iraq. I loved how Herron splits the action between the characters to convey their viewpoints and the misdirection is masterly but some scenes are repetitive and I didn’t think the overall narrative voice quite worked.

As a fan of the JACKSON LAMB SERIES, I am familiar with Bad Sam Chapman as the ex-head of the Dogs, who now works as a private investigator and this book sets out how he came to leave the Service.  However, you don’t get a huge sense of who Chapman really is in this book as he doesn’t get a huge amount of page time, leaving him more as a sketch (dangerous, ruthless and cunning), which is a bit of a shame.  

The real lead character here is Louise who has made a mess of a high-powered career and is now trying to rebuild.  I thought Herron did a great job with her character – I believed in her as someone who made bad decisions and put her faith in the wrong man but who is capable of taking charge and remaining calm under huge pressure.  The scenes where she tries to build a rapport with the terrified and yet dangerous Jaime have real tension to them but Herron also does well at conveying the awkwardness she feels at dealing with Eliot who she knows wants more from her than she is prepared to give.  

Eliot is believable as an ordinary man re-evaluating his life and sad at the feeling that his wife and sons have formed a bond that somehow excludes him and which he doesn’t know how to bridge.  Herron does well at showing him as a man whose desire for Louise is more for what she represents than her as a person and I thought it was particularly good where he shows Eliot realising that he is incapable of being the hero and the best he can do is survive and try to protect his boys.  Judy is, like Sam, more of a sketch than a rounded character in her own right – bitter and furious at her husband who died leaving debts that left her in greatly reduced circumstances that forced her to get a job as a cleaner to make ends meet.  The interplay between the hostages – and especially their differing ends – increases the tension, not least because Jaime has only the barest idea of what it is he’s looking for.

This brings me onto Ben whose role in the book is to join Jaime in providing exposition on Miro’s and the money’s disappearance and what exactly Miro was doing at the time.  In the hands of another writer, this would have been clunky but Herron keeps the backstory working well and Ben’s blasé ladies’ man and back room calculator monkey shtick gives an insight into some of the darkest doings of the UK secret service.  Herron is at his most damning when discussing the money going into (and mostly out of) Iraq and I got a sense that this was a specific cause for him.  Particularly good is the fact that he draws attention to the somewhat chaotic world we were in back in 2007 and the pressures on the police and security services following 7/7 and the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.

Although the pacing of the book worked for me (as did the conceit of having this all unfold within one day), Herron’s decision to have a slight overlap in scene recapping as he switches from character to character did create a degree of repetition that sometimes risked slowing things down.  I was also rather cool on the omniscient (and nameless) narrator who appears at the start of the book because I couldn’t work out where they fit in with the story or how they knew what they knew.  There are plenty of red herrings and misdirection with the plot and although I had guessed some of the final reveals, there was still enough to keep me surprised.

All in all, despite some minor concerns I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I think it would be perfect for anyone who’s a fan of the JACKSON LAMB SERIES and wants to see more set in that world.  

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