Light Touch by Stephen Leather, Kindle Edition, Hodder & Stoughton, July 2017, 432p.
The latest instalment to the Spider Shepherd series is always a reading highlight for me, and year after year, Stephen Leather delivers on what I now consider a sacred day. My history with this series is deep, I read the first book of the series, Hard Landing, just after my mum passed away, while on holiday with my dad. I holed up in the hotel room and found solace in the action packed pages – which coincidentally dealt with Dan Shepherd losing his wife. It made me appreciate what my dad was going through, while also providing an escape from what I was feeling.
The last Spider Shepherd book, Dark Forces, is a favourite of mine, and I was worried that the follow up wouldn’t meet my high expectations. Also, as Light Touch is the fourteenth book in this series, I was worried that things would be becoming stale and overdone. That was not the case – Leather is excellent at creating tense and thrilling plots that are original and enthralling.
In Light Touch Spider is sent after a drug dealer who is importing drugs using catamarans. He is also there to check up on another undercover agent. This takes place after he helped bring down a terrorist plot in London. I found this plot to not be as strong as most of the undercover plots that are featured in Spider Shepherd novels. However, we are also introduced to ‘Lastman’ Standing, a SAS soldier with some pretty intense and hilarious anger management issues. Standing is sent to London by the SAS to undergo anger management therapy and finds himself taking down bad guys left and right while also focusing on his breathing exercises.
Spider Shepherd is my favourite fictional character. But in Light Touch, the Matt Standing story line is much more entertaining and fleshed out. It could have warranted a full novel in it’s own light, rather than stealing the limelight from Spider Shepherd. I’d love to read more novels featuring Standing – and I would also love it for there to be Spider Shepherd and ‘Lastman’ Standing crossovers, but they both had plots in this novel that deserved main plot status, and instead we had these two plots racing side by side and competing for attention. Another alternative would be to have both these strong characters working on the same plot from different angles or even as a team.
One thing that has made me a little less in love with these novels is that there is a racial undertone – almost bordering on racist – through these novels. Many of the characters take the time to express their borderline racist opinions – and although it is not Spider Shepherd who has these opinions (and he often argues against them) the obsession with race and skin colour gets old. A mention or two in a novel that features Islamic terrorism is fine and expected – but a constant commentary on racial issues gets tiresome. I imagine that for most people this wouldn’t even be mentionable, but it is something i have realised I am sensitive to, and is featured often in thriller novels.
I won’t elaborate on things that I loved about this novel in detail because it would be major spoilers for those who haven’t read previous novels – but Spider’s life has changed so much when compared to only three or four novels previously. It’s great that Leather is constantly evolving his character and making him change. It gets old quick when characters stay the same in each book, never changing. His romantic situation in this novel is a novelty for longtime Spider Shepherd readers, and although we didn’t get any interactions with Liam, his son, we were updated on what he is doing.
Light Touch is another great Spider Shepherd novel to add to the collection, and a book that I will return to in the future. I do hope we get a series of SAS novels about Matt Standing, because for my money, he is one of the most interesting characters to have existed in this universe. We have had a Lex Harper spin-off – give us a Standing one too, please!