The Last Ten Seconds, by Simon Kernick

 

As may be expected from its title, THE LAST TEN SECONDS is an action-packed thriller which leaves no opportunity for reflection as the pages zoom past. The book opens as Sean Egan, the narrator, lies shot and seriously wounded in a room surrounded by dead men – the police burst in and more shots are fired, but we know no more than that. The action then shifts to 37 hours previously, when DI Tina Boyd and her team violently apprehend a serial killer known as 'the night creeper'. The suspect, Andrew Kent, protests his innocence, to no avail, until he remembers that he has an alibi for one of the crimes of which he's accused.

We next learn that Sean is in fact an undercover policeman who specialises in posing as a gangster in order to track down and kill the man who murdered his brother John during a bank raid some years previously. Unknown to his bosses, Sean is recruited by some hard men for a kidnapping job, but before he is paid his advance, he has to prove himself to his prospective employers by brokering a gun deal – which inevitably goes wrong and results in lots of fighting and shooting. The rest of the book continues very much in this vein – short, action-packed chapters, alternating between Tina's and Sean's point of view, with plenty of suspense as they separately realise who the kidnapping target is, who is behind the night-creeper killings (maybe), who is giving the gang-lords their orders and why, and so on. Events escalate to a ludicrous degree, but happen so quickly that the reader never has a nanosecond to stop and look objectively at the overwrought plot, as conspiracy builds on conspiracy, and as Sean and Tina both take the law very much into their own hands (leading to yet more tensions and violent confrontations).

Both Sean and Tina (who has featured in at least one earlier novel by Simon Kernick) are potentially interesting creations, unlike all the other characters in this drama who are straight out of central casting, but the book is primarily about pace and suspense – and on that level it succeeds admirably. One often sees books described as "airport novels" and this certainly is one – read it on a plane and the journey will fly by, but the plot really does not stand up to much scrutiny, and you may not remember too much about any of it for very long after you arrive at your destination.

Review first published at Euro Crime, March 2010.

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