First Response by Stephen Leather, Hardcover, Hodder & Stoughton, Feb 2016, 377p.
4 out of 5 stars.
Another cracking thriller from Stephen Leather. If you have ever spoken to me about books, or read any of my previous reviews of Leather’s work, you will know that I am a pretty major fan of the Spider Shepherd series. I loan out copies of the books often because I want to convert others to the series – and most often I’m successful. Before the Spider Shepherd series began, Leather wrote a string of standalones, most of them excellent. On my bookshelves, the oldest saddest looking books are these standalone novels. Whenever I’m a little stuck for inspiration I pick up one of those older books and read. First Response is the first standalone that Leather has had traditionally published in a long time and it certainly deserves all the accolades and gushing that is now to follow in this review.
Let me start by discussing the protagonist of this wonderful story, Superintendent Mo Kamran. I loved reading about a Muslim in a position of authority in the police force. So many thrillers that the bigger authors write have a white hero defeating the great unwashed, brown enemy. Although Kamran is a Muslim, he is much more than that – he’s not perfect (which is sometimes the temptation when writing a subversive character, I’ve noticed) nor is his religion actually that important when he is doing his job. To me, this feels closer to real life.
I’d be remiss to leave out that he is dealing with a Islamic terrorist attack, but the way that is handled is amazing. The twist at the end – I didn’t see it coming. I knew something was going on, but I didn’t actually guess the whole story. It had the feeling of a murder mystery but it is firmly a thriller book, with a tense race towards a deadline. Leather has a knack in writing books that seem to straddle the action, mystery and thriller genres, and in First Response, he’s kicked that into high gear.
Due to the type of incident that Kamran is dealing with, there were lots of moving parts – and instead of having a hero cop or SAS trooper or something of the type, Kamran has an overarching view of events in the book, and interacts with politicians, police, intelligence agencies and the SAS. It felt more believable because Kamran was juggling all these different pressures and priorities and there was no single ‘hero’ who went in, all guns blazing, to save the day.
I’d love to see more of Mo Kamran, but I have this feeling that this book was a standalone and the universe won’t be expanding. First Response would make an excellent movie, with so many different incident points and a grand scale, it would certainly be something I’d go to a cinema to see on the big screen.