Freemantle, Brian - 'Time to Kill'
In veteran Brian Freemantle's new thriller TIME TO KILL the former CIA operative and convicted traitor Jack Mason has spent has spent 15 years in Pennsylvania's White Deer penitentiary, planning his revenge.
His KGB contact Colonel Dimitri Sobell had not only betrayed him but then married his ex-wife Anne. Sobell had entered the Witness Protection Program, assumed the identity David Salter, and lived happily with Anne for 15 years, becoming the proud parents of 14 year old Daniel, a budding basketball star. Mason has sustained himself during his time in the penitentiary by training to a peak of physical fitness, and becoming an expert computer hacker. He has earned remission for good behaviour, as has his cell mate Peter Chambers, who has three million dollars stashed away from a bank scam. Mason intends to exact retribution on David and Anne, and then with the disposable Chambers' hidden stash live a life of hedonism in Europe.
This book had all the ingredients to be an exciting and gripping thriller, but after a promising beginning it fails to meet expectations, and is a disappointing read. The story fails because firstly most of the characters are so one-dimensional. Jack Mason is a monster without any redeeming features, whose only interests are money and women. David Salter is just too bland and emotionless to be a Russian, and he totally underestimates Mason and everyone else in the story. I think the KGB must have been relieved when he defected. Anne is perhaps the only sympathetic character in the book, and the final denouement is no surprise. The female parole officers Glynis and Beverley, and the other law enforcement operatives are blatant stereotypes, where the author has shown little imagination.
Secondly there are several aspects of the plot that strain one's incredulity; such as, would a KGB defector relocate to Frederick, Maryland, one hour's drive from Washington, and the Russian Embassy. Mexico was said to "so far from God and so close to the USA", but Frederick is so close to Washington DC, and so very close to Fort Detrick. Fort Detrick is home to the National Interagency Biodefense Campus, making Frederick not the ideal quiet backwater suitable for a defecting Russian. Would Salter want Anne to run an art gallery relying on public exhibitions so close to Washington? Would there not be considerable press interest in the release of the traitor Mason from his incarceration?
But finally it is the niggling errors that ruin the atmosphere and any ambience that has been built up if you had managed to overcome the plot deficiencies. An American would never say "I want to be a major league basketball player", he would say "I want to play in the NBA". The expression "major league" relates to baseball and is not used for basketball.
Another passage states that "The body still hadn't been identified and there was insufficient orthodontic work to canvas dentists". I expect the author was trying to use the American terminology 'prosthodontics' instead of the British terminology 'restorative dentistry', and got it wrong. The chances of an adult 'down and out' having orthodontic braces would be pretty slim!
I had begun to feel that perhaps I was being too harsh in my criticisms of this book, when a passage screamed out at me from the page, that just about summed up the lack of thought that had gone into the writing and editing. I wondered whether I was the first person actually to read the book, and whether other reviewers and blurb writers care if there is complete nonsense written on the page.
"For you I'd recommend a Walther TPH. It's a seven round weapon, .25 calibre, remarkably accurate for up to 100 yards and light as a feather at three kilograms."
For the record the Walther TPH weighs 325 grams and there are 1,000 grams to the kilogram, not 100. Three kilograms is almost half a stone!
Norman Price, England