As Costello watched the scene, he smiled. It was a twisted, sadistic expression. The smile of a killer experiencing a cruel sense of satisfaction at a job well done.
I’ve got to be honest: Wicked Game is not a novel I would normally pick up. I think we all have ideas of ourselves when we walk into a bookshop; I tend to head for anything looking quirky and a bit obscure, a bit Iris Murdoch. So I’m really glad that I was asked to read Matt Johnson’s debut novel. Not only did it totally destroy my pretentious, narrow-minded idea of what I ‘should’ be reading, it also allowed me to become more familiar with PTSD, which interests me as I work in and am passionate about mental health.
Wicked Game begins in India, and the setting as well as the style reminded me of an earlier Orenda Books novel I reviewed, The Abrupt Physics of Dying. Johnson artfully and yet sparsely sets the scene, masters the foul-mouthed conversation of two middle-aged men and, setting the tone for the rest of the novel, throws in a surprise just when you think you know what is about to happen. Just as you get acquainted with one set of characters at a particular time, the scene switches to another decade and another country.
I developed quite a fondness for the novel’s protagonist, Bob Findlay. Ex-SAS, he attempts to shed his past and find a role which fits in better with family life, and so he becomes an Inspector in the Met Police. But of course, there is a catch: Findlay’s past is about to come after him. As not one, but two colleagues from his SAS regiment are murdered, he realises that he is likely to be next. Yet who exactly wants him dead? Is it a forgotten enemy from the Iranian Embassy siege? Is it an MI5 acquaintance? Or is the truth, in fact, much more complicated?
I devoured Wicked Game on a gloriously silent April afternoon. I hope you too will devour it (even if, like me, you’re a sucker for Iris Murdoch).
Many thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for the review copy.