Off the bad guys

Takedown by Stephen Leather Hodder and Stoughton 373pp Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops 595 baht

Nations are paranoid, apprehensive that they will be attacked from one direction or another. History has shown that today’s friends may well be tomorrow’s enemies. So they pre-emptively draw up plans for war against neighbours and distant lands, stockpiling weapons.

All of which is kept under wraps. But more than a few of those other countries want to know how those plans affect them, so they can best counter them. They offer huge bribes to obtain them or kidnap anyone who knows their contents and make him tell. Orders are sent to eradicate the turncoats.

How British’s MI5 goes about it is the theme of Stephen Leather’s Takedown. Controller Charlotte Buttons and her top hitman Lex Harper are two the author’s most popular characters. Doing their jobs in the Middle East is second nature to them. Harper moves in and out of Syria like a wraith.

A marginally more dangerous problem are the Russians. Not the former KGB, but the billionaire oligarchs and their mafia bodyguards. Charlotte points Harper in the direction of the worst of them. Where do you think they hang out?

If Leather is to be believed: Pattaya. They’ve built luxurious villas there and locals flock to them. The wealthy Russians simply have to ask to get everything they need and want. Which stretches the truth a whole lot.

Harper takes on the Russians in ones and twos with poison, explosives, bullets.

Stephen Leather, Irish, is a first-rate writer of thrillers. A frequent visitor here, his impressions of the Land of Smiles are his own.

This reviewer wonders why Hollywood hasn’t grabbed Leather’s books. On the whole, they seem like more promising screen adaptations than those of other scribes.


Guilty Minds by Joseph Finder Head of Zeus 386pp Available at Asia books and leading bookshops 350 baht

Secrets and lies

We all have secrets we don’t want people to know. Too embarrassing, something illegal we did, a matter concerning national security. Yet secrets are hard to keep, particularly when more than one person is in on it. Then there are those in the business of uncovering secrets: historians, ancient ones; journalists, contemporary ones.

Not to be overlooked are the gossip columnists and websites. Their motivation is the enjoyment of cutting pillars of the community down to size. The consequences of covering personal secrets are dire. The worst scenario is when the exposed secrets are untrue.

By the time they are disproved, those among us who believe the worst of our fellow man have accepted the accusation at face value (I know what I know). In Guilty Minds, Yank scrivener Joseph Finder offers a plot in which a website, Slander Sheet, is threatening to cover the chief justice of the US Supreme Court in smut.

It claims to have evidence that the married, greatly respected man has been having trysts with an escort. The piece would ruin his reputation. Denying it isn’t enough. It must be nailed down as a hoax. To which end private eye Nick Heller is employed, from his Boston office.

Finder’s run-on protagonist has the knack for detecting lies from body language. He’s also a famed interviewer, not above bluffing. His small staff, computer whizzes, can hack any and all internet walls. His main problem is learning who is pulling the website’s strings.

The story never bogs down, as Heller is constantly in motion, locating and interviewing hidden characters. It develops that he’s under surveillance. The call girl is murdered, made to look like a suicide. A Washington bigwig offs himself. Heller is attacked. A journalist is abducted.

The message in all this is that the nation’s capital is a nice place to visit, but be in no hurry to move there. His job done, our hero can’t wait to return to Boston.

Nevertheless, the reader is told that something inside Heller keeps drawing him to the dark side.