Reviewed by Gerard Healy
This thriller by Michael Ledwidge is a great holiday read, perhaps best done at the beach. It’s fast-paced, full of action and has the obligatory nasty baddies and a one-man-army hero to boot. Character development is not its forte, but most readers of this genre are probably not concerned about this. Think of Jack Reacher crossed with James Bond and you get the idea.
Like one of the Bond books, this one starts in the Bahamas. Local charter boat skipper Michael Gannon is well out to sea fishing, when he witnesses a plane crash. Diving down to the wreckage he discovers six dead men and a valuable haul, which he assumes is from a drug cartel.
Ledwidge is good at building the tense atmosphere of the dive and the authenticity of the equipment and skills needed to carry out such an activity. Later in the book, another danger-laden dive features in a key scene.
The story involves a conspiracy of powerful, corrupt intelligence officials. At their disposal is the vast array of surveillance cameras, facial recognition software and computer hacking functions of a superpower. Ledwidge is adept at describing the amazing scope and power of such modern technical developments, all employed in the name of ‘national security’.
As an example of their reach, they can even side-line the Coast Guard and then the US Navy, when the plane’s wreckage is discovered.
This is where Navy Lieutenant Ruby Everett enters the story. She is an accident investigator good at her job and good looking as well. Before she and the rest of the Navy team are side-lined, she interviews the young diver who’s been down to the plane. He shares something of key interest with her before she leaves the site.
The conspirators need to keep a lid on the true story of the crash, so Everett and her family are targeted. This heavy-handedness turns her into a fugitive seeking the truth. Similarly, when Gannon hears the ‘fake news’ made up about the crash, he also wants to find out what’s really going on. These two characters meet through an internet reporter in New York. Unfortunately, the baddies are watching this whistle-blower closely.
Ledwidge’s local knowledge of the Big Apple helps give credibility to the chase scenes set there. This is reasonably true for other locales around the USA and further afield.
All good thrillers require a convincing villain for the forces of good to struggle against. In this case it’s a high official in the FBI named Robert Reyland. He’s done a deal with some shadowy billionaires and travels with his own private squad of ex-mercenaries as well as a loyal band of do-anything underlings. While Reyland has the trappings of normality with a wife and family, he seems prepared to break any rule to get what he wants.
Gannon, on the other hand, is made a more sympathetic character by his willingness to help his adult son with his baseball try-outs. Also, being a widower, there is the possibility that he and Ruby will one day be an item. But before any romance can occur, some serious mayhem has to be unleashed on the forces of corruption.
Perhaps you’re not meant to ponder too much how such a power-hungry FBI official as Reyland could rise to the top and then get away with such widespread criminality so comprehensively. It does seem to be the case that the usual checks and balances of the intelligence world have been eroded in these strange, Trumpian times but credibility is certainly stretched here.
Another stretch is the quality and availability of guns, money, passports and so on that our hero can call on from his eclectic band of contacts around the world. If nothing else, it does help to even the playing field against his state-backed foes.
But it’s the action scenes that drive the story forward and Gannon (rhymes with cannon) turns more lethal as the story unfolds. His shocked opponents discover too late that he’s much more than a charter boat skipper from the Bahamas.
This is a well-paced, engaging action story that I can recommend.
Michael Ledwidge was born and raised in New York. He is the author of ‘The Narrowback’ and ‘Bad Connection’ as well as being co-author with James Patterson of over a dozen titles. Perhaps the most popular of these was ‘Step on a Crack’ (2007), which introduced the character Michael Bennett.
Stop at Nothing
by Michael Ledwidge
$32.99; pp 413