10 December 2018

Review - The Janus Run by Douglas Skelton

Cover by Andrew Forteath
The Janus Run
Douglas Skelton
Contraband, 20 September 2018
PB, e 297pp

I'm grateful to Saraband for a copy of The Janus Run to review.

In The Janus Run, Skelton delivers a relentless, intense thriller, full of twists, revelations and violent revenge.

Coleman Lang is living the dream. He's a successful New York advertising executive with a swanky apartment and a wonderful girlfriend (Gina). It's been ten years since he left the shadowy Janus organisation. He's put that past behind him, his divorce from Sophia is now through and all is rosy.

Then Lang falls through a trapdoor back into a world of blood, mistrust and terror.

Lang wakes up with Gina beside him in bed.

But she's dead.

And though he knows he's innocent... the signs all point to him having killed her.

Pretty soon Lang is being hunted across New York by the NYDP, Federal marshals, the Mob, the sinister Mr Jinks - and Gina's father. To survive, he'll have to remake himself into the man who worked for Janus - whatever the cost.

This is an immersive and fast paced adventure. Despite the modern setting, something about it reminded me of The Thirty Nine Steps. Like Buchan's hero Hannay, Lang has a past as a man of action, and like Hannay, he must clear his name in circumstances that are, to begin with, completely murky. And, again like Hannay, he's supported - or hindered - by an ill suited partner he's nevertheless forced to cooperate with. For me that relationship, founded on a total lack of trust between two men from different worlds who are nevertheless forced to accept they have a great deal in common, was the strongest part of the story, at times even slightly amusing.

I'm a bit wary in general of stories which use the death of a woman to motivate a male character, and it would be good to have seen a living Gina in this book (especially given what we learn about her) but I feel that in The Janus Run Skelton has provided a great deal more to drive events than that: Lang's Janus experience, and the underworld links that complicate things, would have snarled him sooner or later in any case.

The plot doesn't just follow Lang and his associates but also spends a fair bit of time on his NYPD opponent, Rosie Santoro, and her frustrations with the job as well as her bonding with US Marshall TP McDonough (who has her own cross to bear in the form of obnoxious colleague, Burke). Santoro has a lot to do here as the body count grows and comes across as cool and capable. Santoro is a complex character who I sense we'll see more of if Skelton follows up this story.

Given I'd previously only encountered Skelton's writing set in Scotland, I did wonder to start with whether his New York would convince but it rang very true to me (disclaimer: it's not a place I know myself, so I may be wholly off the point here but it fits my idea of New York.

The book packs a great deal in given it is fairly short, so it's pretty much nonstop action (I lost track of exactly how many deaths take place) and really deserves to be read in a single sitting: watch out if you've got any urgent appointments, you may end up missing them! There is though much more to it that an extended chase/ shootout. The Janus Run has a delicate and ravelled plot, with - as Lang realises towards the end - many wheels turning within other wheels. And some of which continue to spin when we reach the end, holding out the promise of a sequel which I for one would be very keen to read.

You can buy The Janus Run from your local independent bookshop via Hive Books, from Waterstones, or from Amazon.

For more on the book see the publisher's website here.

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