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ScotKris was quick off the mark in reading this one and furnished us with a very positive review back in June. At the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival in July, I was talking to someone from the Netherlands who’d love to see Tom Bale published there. Having enjoyed the first ‘Tom Bale’ – Skin and Bones – I didn’t want to lose momentum with this author. Then, two fortuitous moments arrived: I received a lovely copy from the fabulous collectors’ choice book store, Goldsboro Books in London; and it was in my hands just as I felt the need for a good, quick read thriller. As soon as I started reading, the sense of ‘devour’ took over and Bale scooped me up again with his plotting and the urgency of his storytelling.
Terror’s Reach is a fictional island, at the nether-reaches of Chichester Harbour. Taking Sandbanks at Poole in Dorset as inspiration, Terror’s Reach is also a millionaires’ paradise, but with far fewer residents and housing, and also cut-off from the mainland with only a narrow bridge to link it. Terror’s Reach is home to two competing businessmen: Robert Felton and the Ukrainian, Valentin Nasenko. Our protagonist, Joe Clayton is employed in the Nasenko household as a bodyguard to Nasenko’s wife, Cassie and her children.
Terror’s Reach is an island about to be subject to a siege. Where, on one level, some of the content of the opening pages may appear mundane as it introduces the scene, Bale raises the bar to a higher level: there is a wonderfully thrilling conspiratorial feel to the detail, as if the reader is being briefed for a secret assignment, and as if the narrator is whispering the information. With the scene set in mind, relationship tensions soon bubble to the surface within the Nasenko household and a chain of relentless action ensues as a group of masked strangers violently invades the island. Who are they and what do they want?
To say more about the plot is to give too much away. The key driver is that the reader works out what is going on one snippet at a time, just as for many of those involved in the siege, and on both sides of the crime. Do you care about the characters and want to know? Of course you do and especially for the victims. Using the same technique as in Skin and Bones, Bale’s setting of the scene introduces the characters in their pursuit of normal everyday life, just before their day is blown apart and lives are taken with no hint of remorse. Clayton, with his new identity and small stock of replacements carefully secured is an enigma himself. His backstory leads to reactions and actions outside the norm for a bodyguard.
It may not all ring true on times – and there are very few of these moments, although a particular fight scene did not have full credibility for me – but of one thing we can be certain: Bale knows how to write a damn fine thriller. He has his own style which quickly creates a salivating reader wanting to participate in the journey. In this second novel he confirms his currency and there is no ‘second-novel-jittery-syndrome’ in evidence. Bale has arrived. Let’s hope that in the current economic climate his publisher has signed him up for more.
Terror’s Reach is a wonderful example of British thriller writing, don’t miss it.