Hold Still, by Tim Adler, took some time to hook me but, once it did, had to be finished in a sitting. It is a thriller based around a mafia style organisation controlling brothels and drug dealers in the UK. The proceeds enable the ruling family to finance their local politicians, bribe the supposed law enforcement organisations, and orchestrate terrorist arms deals worldwide.
The protagonist is a young, English woman named Kate who travels to Albania with her husband, Paul, for a family funeral. Paul has been preoccupied with business issues and is constantly on his phone. Kate tries to get him to confide in her but to no avail. Relaxing in their hotel room after the wake Kate takes a photograph of her husband as he wanders towards their balcony after receiving a text message. Moments later he is dead on the street, an apparent suicide.
Naturally Kate is distraught. She studies photographs taken before the event and finds inconsistencies, shadows in the pixels that suggest all may not be as it seems. When the local police close their investigation she flies home but continues to worry at the flimsy evidence she has amassed. Those she confides in advise her to grieve and learn to accept her loss. Kate is not so easily comforted.
In the first half of the book I was niggled by elements of the narrative structure including a couple of continuity errors. Colin, a business associate, is described as being paralysed from the neck down yet he “pulled open a desk drawer” and “handed her the business card with his better arm.” Kate arranges a meeting with him on Tuesday but this happens on Wednesday. These seemed avoidable irritations. By the second half of the book the pace had picked up and I was so caught in the web of intrigue, the writing style no longer snagged my concentration.
As with many thrillers, to enjoy the plot development it is necessary to allow the author a degree of literary licence. Kate is portrayed as an ordinary women thrown into extraordinary circumstances who discovers a resolve and fortitude it is hard to comprehend. However, in going along with the action we can enjoy a fast moving, terrifying series of events that are remarkable for having a female at the helm rather than the usual male. It makes a gratifying change.
Kate’s investigations put her in dangerous situations which take her across Europe. She discovers that strangers are rarely willing to intervene in altercations. She must work out who she can trust, and make difficult decisions about who she wants to be.
What struck me about the plot was the danger of removing hope. For a free society to thrive, for law and order to prevail, citizens must have a stake in what they are working for, something they care about. Take that away and there is no reason for compliance. If all that is valued is monetary gain anarchy will prevail. There will always be sadists looking for gratification, a danger to all if beyond control.
The denouement was well put together; Kate’s unlikely presence in certain places acknowledged. It was a satisfactory tying together of loose ends with a nod to a potential future.
For those who like action thrillers this is an intriguing, sometimes hair-raising read. The inclusion of data mining and the use of the dark web provide food for thought for all.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Urbane Publications.