(2010) Rebecca Levene, Abaddon Books, £7.99, pbk, 295pp, ISBN 978-1-906-73536-4
If you have read any of the other series that Abaddon Books publishes then Rebecca Levene will be familiar to you through the titles Kill or Cure and Anno Mortis, but here she has struck out for new territory by being at the helm of a brand new urban fantasy series under The Infernal Game banner with first title Cold Warriors which contains an extract from the next book in the series called Ghost Dance.
In Cold Warriors she establishes the shadowy Hermetic Division that was set up to deal with threats against the UK that emerged during the Cold War, and while that war might be over some threats still remain and the work of the Division continues, in this instance to track down the missing Ragnarock artifacts which could destroy the World and may be being targeted by a Russian billionaire who is up to no good. Obviously, this needs to be dealt with, so two top agents are dispatched, one – Morgan Hewitt – has a knack of losing his partners, sometimes in friendly fire incidents, so it is no surprise that he is seen as a bit of jinx by his colleagues who are reluctant to team up with him.
What to do about a problem called Morgan?
Well, the powers that be come up with the novel solution of giving him a new partner called Tomas Len who has problems of his own. The most obvious being that he used to be dead, but now he is been brought back to life again in a time that is not his own, and has been trained to fight a war against enemies that do not really exist any more, so he is finding it a bit hard to adjust to his changing circumstances, but at least being dead and restored to life does have it’s advantages, one being that he’s practically indestructible – shades of Captain Scarlet, although at least the Spectrum agent never had a hankering for human flesh, unlike Tomas. Yes, he is a zombie – of sorts – and this is probably the best, most original part of the novel, and a great way to set up the dynamic between the two lead characters.
One of the good things about this novel is the level of realism in the book, and the grounding in reality to lay the foundations on which the supernatural elements are laid upon. On one level, this reads like a typical, almost mundane, shadowy spy novel from the likes of Len Deighton or John le Carre. It has all the standard spy tropes, such as visits to dark Eastern European cities, dark alleyways, meetings, mysterious packages, double-crosses, car chases and people who are not what they seem, and certainly not to be trusted. All this seems ultra-real, like a magic realism novel with a heightened, descriptive sense of reality with a hidden layer of fantasy underneath that is capable of shining through the cracks and bursting, sometimes violently into this world. However, having said that there is perhaps too much description and building of detail and atmosphere and less in the way of action, and given the slippery nature of the plot and the characters that are not always what they see to be, the ending is a bit weak, and one a hardened reader might see coming.
Still, in a world over populated by vampire-lite books and endless paranormal romance novels featuring brooding hunks on the cover, then this makes a welcome addition and slips neatly in beside the dark spy/espionage novels being written by Simon Green (which is the lightest of the sub-genre) and Charlie Stross’ 'Laundry' (see The Fuller Memorandum) series (which is just way out there). Levene has created an interesting new series and while possibly being hampered slightly by having to set up everything within these pages, I fully expect the series to go on from strength to strength.
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