Conway, Simon - 'Rock Creek Park'
"I don't mind telling you, Michael, I was sceptical when the Senator suggested you for this case. You can only ride so far on your wife's coat tails. And as for that maverick war hero bullshit, forget it. I have no tolerance for heroics."
Michael Freeman is ex-Special Forces and a Washington DC police detective; thirty-five years old, a black man from Detroit married to a politically ambitious woman who works on the Presidential support staff. It's four in the morning and mid-snowstorm in Washington's Rock Creek Park as Michael slithers on an icy pavement towards the yellow incident tape that marks off the site of a young woman's dead body. This area of the park is close to the boundary of Washington's own "Knob Hill" district of Crestwood, where the capital's wealthy and influential have their mansions. In fact the crime site is a mere ten feet away from the fence surrounding the grounds and home of a powerful Senator; Freeman now understands why his boss has warned him to be careful. The young woman who found the body and called the police is waiting at the site. She had been out jogging when she heard someone crashing through the trees. She hid and watched a man carrying something heavy down the slope. He dropped whatever it was and ran on down the hill to the road below. And what he had dropped was the dead body of a young woman, her face smashed beyond recognition. Freeman calls at the Senator's house looking for witnesses and finds that the great man is already accompanied by his chief of staff, the Mayor and the Chief of Police. The Senator tells Freeman that he is anxious for prompt results, the poor girl's family must be assured that the killer will be found. Unfortunately the household staff had the evening off and there is nothing that he nor the remaining staff and family can tell by way of useful information. After the interview the Police Chief takes Freeman to one side and tells him that the Senator specifically requested Freeman be put in charge of the case; their shared military background, the political success of his wife, whatever – she, the Police Chief, is not to be fooled. Just remember that this is Washington not Detroit, Freeman. The remark makes Freeman flush with anger. He heads back to Police Headquarters for a witness statement from the woman who found the body. That witness is Harriet "Harry" Armstrong who turns out to be a British national, Scottish to be precise, and an ex-London Metropolitan Police officer in Specialist Protection. She now lives in Washington with her husband who is a journalist based in the capital. She doesn't sleep well, so she goes jogging, that's what she was doing when she found the dead girl. Freeman and his colleagues are suspicious but Harry is calm about giving a DNA sample and taking a polygraph test, she seems to be telling the truth. Later, when Freeman returns to the crime scene in the park, he startles a crouching figure, its ski-masked face raised as though it is sniffing the air. A desperate chase along the rocky, snowy paths of the park and out into the surrounding roads and alleyways ends when Freeman is knocked to the ground and loses consciousness.
ROCK CREEK PARK is a true thriller which displaces us from a straightforward Washington murder mystery into the world of political chicanery and blue-sky defence strategy that borders on science fiction. It is no coincidence that Simon Conway lists amongst his inspirations what is one of my own favourite sci-fi books – Paul McAuley's Fairyland, a story of underground gene splicing and human modification. In ROCK CREEK PARK the characters Michael Freeman and Harriet Armstrong find their paths crossing yet again as this tale of "black ops" and corruption unfolds and the battleground eventually switches from Washington to the mountains of the Caucasus. Simon Conway is a former British Army officer and a former international aid worker working in landmine clearance. His background brings authenticity to his settings and weapons knowledge. Now a full-time writer, he won the CWA Steel Dagger in 2010 for his third novel A LOYAL SPY. His fourth, ROCK CREEK PARK, is a gripping read with strong characters and fast-paced escalating action. It is packed with all of the ingredients you could wish for in an action thriller, a fast and furious tale of crime and political intrigue with an edge of dark science that Conway tells us is not as far removed from the truth as we would like to think. I enjoyed it and thoroughly recommend it.
Lynn Harvey, England
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