Tragically orphaned as the result of an unexplained mass murder in a Nigerian hotel (as you are), teenager Zak Darke signs up to work as an operative for an unnamed government agency (as you do), after being approached by a mysterious cherry-tobacco trailing stranger, known only as Michael (think guardian archangel). ‘You fit a profile, Zak. A very precise one.’ After an intensive period of training on a remote Scottish island from which Zak emerges super-fit, fluent in Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin, and a crack shot (as you do) he is sent undercover to Mexico on his first assignment as Agent 21. It’s a piffling matter of infiltrating the lethal world of a super-powerful drug lord, and gathering enough evidence against him for British agents to swoop down and take him in.
The plot of this first book in a new series from former SAS operative Chris Ryan veers from the ludicrous to the predictable. There is little depth to any of the characters, the prose is frequently leaden, the dialogue wooden, and to say it is cliché-ridden is an understatement. But somehow, when you are in the heat of the action, it doesn’t much matter. For Ryan knows precisely what calibre of high-octane detail to dish up for a pulsating ride: nasty security men bristling with automatic weapons; GPS tracking chips in socks, drugs in the jungle, sinister one-eyed Mexican psychopaths; car chases; UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters (no ordinary chopper you understand) capable of firing 7.62mm rounds at a rate of up to 6000 rounds a minute. I was, quite unexpectedly, gripped by it all.