Having concentrated for so many decades on crime fiction, I have tended to ignore the thriller market. Not quite entirely. For a few years I detoured into Le Carré and Deighton, both of whom, in their own way, transcended the conventional Cold War arena in suggesting that the spymasters had more in common with each other than their apparent counter-positions would dictate, and moreover that the real enemies were more likely to be your supposed friends. Then there was the Ludlum years and another writer who was more concerned with the danger to the world order which stemmed from dissident elements within the West’s Military/Industrial hegemony.
There are, however, authors who effectively, and successfully, cross over the divides between crime fiction and thrillers: Phillip Kerr with the Bernie Gunther series and David Downing with the John Russell books both dealing with wartime and post-war Germany, and T Robb Smith with his three titles grounded in the Stalinist USSR. I suppose the most successful current exponent is Lee Child with the indefatigable, and excellently crafted, Reacher. And this is the market which Patrick Lee is obviously seeking to expand with Runner.
Runner is the first Patrick Lee book to be published in the UK, though he has three earlier books under his belt available in the States. Runner introduces Sam Dryden who shares many of the features of Jack Reacher. Maybe that has encouraged Lee Child to endorse both book and author as “Breathless, involving, smart and completely convincing. A huge talent.” And who am I to disagree with that verdict? After reading Runner I suspect most people will see where Lee Child is coming from.
Dryden is another ex-soldier with the kind of military career he is not at liberty to discuss and, even if he were, it is likely his own modesty would restrain him. Another loner, as well. His wife and daughter have been killed some years earlier under circumstances which neither hero nor author divulge. However, there are passing references to his post military past and an involvement in Afghanistan and renditioning which serve to explain Dryden’s insomniac tendencies. During one such sleepless night he takes to the streets and the Pacific boardwalks of El Sedero for a run and, literally, bumps into a young girl who is trying to escape from a group with murderous intent who are searching for her with an obvious military precision. Dryden immediately decides to help her and, using his own military expertise, Dryden and the girl manage to elude the search party. In doing so Dryden manages to lose his wallet. Thus the pursuit group know exactly who has assisted the girl and where he lives. The couple have no choice but to go on the run.
Eluding the pack is no easy task. Involved is not just a maverick group of military dissidents, but the entire military/industrial complex involving influential drug companies seeking to develop psychiatric techniques to produce human weapons for the war machine who can read enemy minds and thoughts and even dictate their behaviour to the extent of getting them to turn their guns on themselves. Those corporations also have the backing of significant agencies within the American government and the Pentagon and are able to make use of all their resources to track Dryden and the girl. And what frightened me, almost more than the plot itself, is the weaponry now available to the American war machine. Ok I knew a bit about drones, but the references to Mirandas with their capacity to zone in on individuals and follow their every move, was a real eye-opener and as fearsome as the most assiduous hacking armoury. I wish someone would tell me this is not for real, but I should imagine it is, and possibly has even more pernicious qualities than Patrick Lee describes. Ok so I do appreciate the need for security and all that, but, as the author shows, those resources can so easily be used to undermine democratic values in the interests of purely sectional elites rather than any “national interest”.
Rachel, the thirteen year-old girl, becomes almost as critical as Dryden in dictating the efforts they make to escape. It quickly emerges that she is no ordinary teenager. She has spent her early years in one of the psychiatric induction units. She is adept at reading the minds of those chasing her and Dryden's and can equally well get into their heads and thwart their pursuit in various, very convenient, ways. But one of the side effects of the drug treatment she has undergone is severe memory loss which means Rachel really knows very little about her background, what she has endured, at whose hands, and for what reasons. It is the little she does know which dictates their efforts to escape and seek out the few people who can fill in the many gaps.
All this makes for an interesting thriller which keeps the reader fully involved until the final pages much in the way that Lee Child promised. A very welcome addition to the Reacher school of crime fiction/thriller hybrids.