Kinnings, Max - 'Baptism'
"Tommy's gone hasn't he?"
In the isolated Welsh farmhouse that houses the community of the Church of Cruor Christi an old man lies dying, a knife in his throat. He is Father Owen, the head of this small evangelical community which takes in the troubled and damaged and re-shapes their lives. But Father Owen has been killed by one of his own community after he found the notebook detailing the plan for the salvation of souls. In London, early next morning, George Wakeham - married to Maggie and with two young children - gets up and prepares to leave the family home for his job as a train driver on the London Underground. When he gets into his car, he is puzzled by an unfamiliar mobile phone ringtone coming from the glove compartment. He doesn't recognise the phone. But his wife's name is on the screen. He picks up the call. Maggie's voice sounds strange as she tells George to look back at the house. In the front-room window a stranger steps into view. He is holding George’s struggling young daughter. And he is holding a gun to her head. On the phone, Maggie relays the man's instructions. George must put on the phone's headset and keep it on at all times. Next he must drive to the train depot as normal. Otherwise, says Maggie, the strangers will kill them all. They will kill George’s wife and children if he doesn't do as they say.
The events in BAPTISM take place over a tight sixteen hours during which a group of extremist Evangelical converts halt a passenger-filled tube train deep underground in a Northern Line tunnel. With the passengers as hostage they begin to set up conditions for their apocalyptic plan to come to fruition. The book follows the events unfolding on the train whilst also introducing the blind hostage negotiator, DCI Ed Mallory, who - together with police colleagues and a member of MI5 - is working from the London Underground network centre, trying to resolve the life and death struggle taking place on board the train. At the same time Varick and Alistair, fellow Cruor Christi members, are also battling to prevent the horrific outcome of their one-time colleagues' plan.
BAPTISM is Max Kinnings' third novel and the first of what is hoped to be a series featuring DCI Ed Mallory. Kinnings has also worked on developing screenplays in the past. And here is the rub. BAPTISM reads to me like the idea for a film rather than a written work of fiction. It has a bold approach with fast action. Most of the events are written chronologically, complete with chapter headings listing the time. This together with its dramatic theme, certainly generates suspense. But for me the characters, except for poor George whom we inevitably get to know quite well, are thinly realised and almost caricatured. These factors together with the book's casual but graphic violence kept me at a distance. BAPTISM is an out and out thriller rather than a police procedural or crime mystery and the concept is interesting. If you are a fan of suspense, extreme events and extreme characters and you don't mind vividly described bloody action, BAPTISM could be your kind of thriller. But sadly - it's not mine.
Lynn Harvey, England
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