Wednesday, 18 February 2009

“Chicane”, Colin Peel

On paper this should have it all, exotic locations, enigmatic characters, fast cars, a femme fatale, and a conspiracy just big enough to be engaging, while remaining (just) within the bounds of possiblity. As a thriller (Beckenham library getting its classification right) it's a nicely measured work that generally avoids falling into the usual traps one associates with the sometimes hackneyed techno-thriller genre. Ultimately there are perhaps one or two too many contortions in the plot, but overall sitting down with this book is a satisfying experience.

There was, however, a degree of wistfulness in reading “Chicane”. I've been reading thrillers of some variety or another for many more years than I care to remember, and there's an overwhelming sensation that this would have been much more at home in a pre-1989 world. Peel makes a brave effort to clad what is fundamentally a Cold War spy thriller in 21st century garb, but despite all the arguments from the likes of Ed Lucas, and the undeniable frostiness discernible from unpleasantness in the Caucasus last year, “Chicane” still feels like an anachronism. One can't help wondering if the result would have been more convincing had it been restyled as a period piece; a few simple tweaks (substitute fax for email, Ferrari 308 for 360 Modena) and it could have been a convincing pseudo-retelling of the late Cold War, and quite possibly have been better for it. Interestingly, the feel of the book given by the cover, typeface, and most of all the deeply curious author photograph feel exactly like a book from the 1980s, and make it surprising to realise it was published in 2003.

Not having come across Peel before, it's unclear if there is a deeper long running story underpinning the central character, Fraser. Taken in isolation he is inherently far too capable, even if he's still perfectly likeable. Throughout others, most notably the female lead, speculate with some validity about his background, seeing him as so much more than a simple photo-journalist. If “Chicane” is part of a wider universe this would make sense – if it's a standalone work then there are probably too many questions for the characterisation to be wholly convincing.

Ultimately it's books like these that justify the existence of public libraries. As hardback buy (even as a cut price deal airport exclusive) this would probably have left the nagging feeling that it wasn't quite worth it (absurd and illogical in the context of what everything else costs – yes – I know), and even as a cheap charity shop rental there might have been more of a ho-hum about some aspects of it. However as a speculative punt from the library it's transformed into something altogether more satisfactory.

1 comment:

  1. There are many books I would never have bothered with if it weren't for the local public library. Some bad, some good, a few great but most of them I'd never have bought due the hideous cost of books in Australia.