Those Who Disappeared by Kevin Wignall

Having read all of the awesomely named Kevin Wignall‘s books, when given the opportunity to grab Those Who Disappeared on NetGalley I jumped at the chance. And like most Wignall books, I can say that I enjoyed this one and read it pretty quickly.

When a man’s body is discovered in a Swiss glacier thirty years after he went missing, his son, Foster Treherne, hopes he’ll finally have closure on what happened to the father he never met. But then the autopsy reveals signs of a struggle, and what was assumed to be a tragic accident suddenly looks more sinister.

Foster tracks down his father’s old friends, but when he starts to ask questions it becomes clear that there’s something they don’t want to tell him. While some are evasive, others seem to wish the body had never been found. What exactly is their connection to each other, and why are they so reluctant to discuss the day his father disappeared? Who are they trying to protect?

If he wants to uncover what really happened, Foster must follow the trail of secrets and lies—no matter how devastating the consequences, and what they might reveal about his father. Because the truth can only stay buried for so long…

It was a thought provoking and engaging read. Wignall’s characters are always interesting and unique and Faster is no exception

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A Creepy, Atmospheric Young Adult Story From Kevin Wignall

An interesting exploration of teenage relationships within a creepy ghost story.

Speaking of books by longtime friends. OK, maybe that is a slight exaggeration. I have never met Kevin Wignall, unlike Jim Geraghty, but I have been reading his books since 2004 and interacting with him via email and blogs nearly ever since. We are “friends” on Facebook so perhaps that counts nowadays.

Anywhoo… Mr. Wignall recently released a short horror story for young adults, This Place of Evil (he also has another book coming out soon, Those Who Disappeared, but more about that closer to publication).

It was an enjoyable and quick read but definitely not something I would have picked up or read if not for it being written by Kevin. It’s basically an exploration of teenage relationships set against the backdrop of a ghost story in an abandoned school (jock. popular kid, underachiever, girls, etc.).

The backstory, in the form of journal entries from their teacher when he was at the school, continues to provide more context/history interspersed with current events, but the creepiness is really just the perception of what it would be like to be trapped in an old, abandoned building with no way to reach anyone after your teacher just disappeared.

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The Names of the Dead by Kevin Wignall

I am a long time reader of Kevin Wignall going back to 2004 and People Die.  Over the years he has explored a number of genres and categories and I have enjoyed them to varying degrees.  His most recent novel, The Names of the Dead, was released today and it felt like a return to “classic” Wignall to me.

Publishers description:

The Names of the Dead coverFormer CIA officer James ‘Wes’ Wesley paid the ultimate price for his patriotism when he was locked up in a French jail for an anti-terror operation gone wrong—abandoned by the Agency he served, shunned by his colleagues and friends, cut off from his family.

Now he is shattered by the news that his ex-wife, Rachel, a State Department analyst, has been killed in a terrorist attack in Spain. He also discovers that his young son, Ethan, is missing. But Wes didn’t know he had a son—until now.

Why was Rachel in Spain? And why did she keep his son secret from him?

Granted early release, Wes takes flight across Europe to search for the truth and exact his revenge. But can he catch the spies who betrayed him before they track him down? In order to find the answers and save his son, Wes realises he must confront the dark secrets in his own past—before it’s too late.

I was lucky enough to receive a review copy from NetGalley and found myself right back in the world and characters and situations of moral ambiguity, tension and violence.

Here is an exchange in a quick Q&A I did with Kevin in 2008:

I wrote that Conrad Hirst, as most of your books, was an exploration of identity, the nature of morality, and the dangers of self-deception. Is that fair? Accurate?

Yes to both. I’m interested in the fault lines between who we think we are and how others see us. And one of the inherent premises of all my work is that we live in a time of fluid morality, a time in which people are drawing their own boundaries, so I think it’s interesting to explore how people deal with that process, particularly people on the edges of society.

Well, “an exploration of identity, the nature of morality, and the dangers of self-deception” is a pretty good description of The Names of the Dead.  As with most Wignall novels there are a couple of threads.

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When We Were Lost by Kevin Wignall

I’m a fan of Kevin Wignall. I believe I have read all of his books (even those under the KJ Wignall moniker). But as faithful readers will know, I haven’t been the most dedicated book blogger of late (heck, for a while). So gone are the days of offers of advanced reader copies and author interviews and instead I live in the world of request books from the library (Ok, with some exceptions).

All this is to say, after some procrastination, and failing to win the Goodreads giveaway, I finally got ahold of a copy of his latest novel When We Were Lost and read it. It is a young adult mystery/thriller put out under the James Patterson imprint:

Survival. It’s a concept these high school students never had to consider–until their plane crashes in a remote rainforest with no adults left alive. With many of them falling prey to threats from both the jungle and man, they soon realize that danger comes in many sinister forms.

Tom Calloway didn’t want to go on a field trip to Costa Rica, but circumstances had him ending up sitting in the back of the plane–which was the only part that was intact after the crash in the remote South American wilderness. Tom and a small group of his classmates are fortunate to be alive, but their luck quickly runs out when some of them fall prey to the unfamiliar threats of the jungle–animals, reptiles, insects, and even the unforgiving heat. Every decision they make could mean life or death.

As the days go by and the survivors’ desperation grows, things get even more perilous. Not everyone can cope with the trauma of seeing their friends die, and a struggle for leadership soon pits them against each other. And when they come across evidence of other people in the middle of the rainforest, does that mean they’re safe–or has their survival come to an even more vicious end?

Put aside any bias my relationship with the euphoniously named Mr. Wignall, this was another one where I struggled with the star rating (give us half stars Goodreads!).

I enjoyed this book and found its plot quite interesting but its simplicity almost seemed to undermine its power. In the end I went with four stars because it made me want to keep reading and the creative nature of the story. There isn’t a great deal of depth to the characters, although you learn about Tom by seeing the experience through his eyes and in backstory shared along the way. What powers the story is a very basic idea: what would I do if I was in this situation? Put in incredible circumstances practically every decision has real consequences. Watching this play out under the heightened tension of a teen leadership battle allows the reader to explore their reactions and instincts along with Tom and the other kids.

I wish I cold get my teenager daughter to read it and tell me what she thinks because as is often the case it is hard to judge sometimes when you are not the target audience.

All in all, it was an enjoyable read. Adventure, mystery, danger, and teenage angst and personalities all play a role. Wignall’s butterfly effect intro and outro even give it a philosophical spin. Very different from the early amoral contract killer stories that introduced me to his writing but different in a good way I think.

To Die in Vienna by Kevin Wignall

Like Nick Arvin, I am a fan of Kevin Wignall and have been a long time reader of his work (check out the archive for reviews and interviews).  So I was pleased to be able to get an ARC of his latest novel To Die in Vienna.

I found it be an interesting story from Wignall in that instead of an amoral or detached/closed off serial killer/spy we have a central character who is painfully aware of his own weakness and need for connection.

I really enjoyed the central character Freddie Makin. One of the antagonists (or perhaps she is a friend, or merely an interlocutor)  Marina, was another favorite.

The story is not particularly fast paced or intense but there is a building sense of time running out for Freddie and it communicates the tricky issue of loyalty in the world of espionage.  The hook, that Freddie is just a surveillance contractor caught in a deadly trap for a mysterious reason, was well done and helped build suspense.

An entertaining and enjoyable read from a favorite author.  Great for beach or vacation reading.

BTW, this novel is soon to be a major motion picture starring Jake Gyllenhaal.


A Fragile Thing by Kevin Wignall

Note: this has been edited. I hit publish a little too quickly and wanted to add a little more background and context.

I have been a fan of Kevin Wignall for some time (I think my first review was over 13 years ago).  And you would think I would not be disturbed by his approach at this point (I mention it in every review).  But I seem to have been tripped up once more by his latest work, A Fragile Thing.

It is basically the story of Max Emerson, the son of a wealthy expat family living in Europe parents in Switzerland, sister in Lyon, etc.).  But Max’s growing fortune comes from investing, and laundering, the money of international criminals and oligarchs.  Despite his wealth, there are clouds on the horizon.  His family has ostracized him, the FBI is looking into his past, and hackers are poking around his business.  Soon it seems like the secrets of his past, and as his parents secrets are revealed, are going to upend and unravel his life.

I finished reading it in June and posted this at Goodreads at the time as an initial response/reaction:

Hmm, not sure how I feel about this one. Some interesting elements and characters but left me kind of confused at the end. Almost felt like book one in a series where the characters are introduced but there is a lot left to flush out. Ending felt abrupt. Still mulling it.

When I realized it was released today and I needed to post my thoughts, I went back to the book and tried to wrestle with my ambiguity.  I enjoyed reading it but something just didn’t settle right; I was unsatisfied in some way.  After thinking about it, I think I didn’t like the book as much as I normally do Wignall’s writing for two reasons:

  1. It bugged me that the main character was a man comfortable using mobsters and other unsavory characters (something of an understatement) to gain fabulous wealth.  And was comfortable having people killed and killing people himself.  He seems cold, cut off and rather arrogant.  I just really didn’t like him.
  2. The book read almost as a series of vignettes that ended somewhat abruptly with a number of loose ends tied up. My first reaction to the book being finished was huh? It left me unsatisfied.

The second point could be more related to my reading it in fits and starts on my Kindle before bed. I might have struggled to get into it because I was reading for only a few minutes at a time but then it seemed like just when I got into it and the action picked up it was over.

The first issue, however, is just something you have to deal with when you read Wignall.  As I noted in my review of Who is Conrad Hirst?:

If there is something that makes me uncomfortable about Wignall’s work it has always been what I take to be his moral ambiguity.  Wignall doesn’t reflect a moral equivalence like some Cold War spy novelists – the idea that America and the Soviets were equally power hunger and willing to kill for their cause – so much as an absence of clear right or wrong.  Each individual has to define what is right and wrong for themselves.  The individualism/relativism is strong but it sometimes feels darker; there is almost a touch of nihilism involved.

Does moving that approach from hit men to wealthy investor/businessman make it worse somehow? I don’t know, but I think that underlying perspective still rubs me the wrong way.

All that said, I did enjoy reading A Fragile Thing.  I thought the plot hook was interesting and kicked the book off with a sense of tension and mystery.  And  there is some deft character building and plotting throughout. Max and his employees and contacts; his relationship with his family and the backstory of his parents; and his self-exploration about his lack of relationships and friends outside his business are well done and interesting in many ways.

There is a building suspense as the pressure mounts and the secrets are revealed. The reader is thinking: “How is Max going to deal with the multiple thread in his life that seem to be coming undone?”  And Wignall answers this question with some twists and turns.

But I have to say, I just didn’t like Max Emerson and in some way probably wanted him to fail.  But as I like to say, your mileage may vary … ;-)


The Traitor’s Story by Kevin Wignall

Long time readers of this blog, all three of you at this point, will know that I am a fan of Kevin Wignall.  I believe I have read all of his books and even interviewed him a few times.  So I am always excited when he has a new novel out.  And this time I am going to review it in a timely manner.

I was able to get a review copy of The Traitor’s Story from NetGalley.  And not surprisingly given that it is Wignall, it turned out to be an intelligent espionage thriller that explores the complex nature of loyalty, patriotism and love amongst other things. Although, it is not really a typical thriller until the later part of the book. But at the heart of the story is the challenge and impact of secrets which grows out of espionage and an attempt to escape from it.

I enjoyed the way Wignall builds the characters, particularly Finn, by alternating between the present and the past.  Finn is trying to put the past behind him, ironically by writing about the ancient past, but finds it is both a part of who he has become and something that can’t so easily be left behind.

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A Death in Sweden by Kevin Wignall

I have been a fan of Kevin Wignall since I read People Die in 2004.  I have read most of his work and interviewed him a couple of times.  He is not exactly a prolific author, so when I heard he had a new book coming out I was excited to check it out.  I actually got a chance to read A Death in Sweden a few weeks early thanks to the Kindle First program.  But alas, my poor book reviewing habits and the holiday’s intervened and I never posted my thoughts.

A Death in SwedenDan Hendricks is a man in need of a lifeline. A former CIA operative, he is now an agent for hire by foreign powers on the hunt for dangerous fugitives. It’s a lethal world at the best of times, and Dan knows his number is almost up. His next job could be his last—and his next job is his biggest yet.

The target sounds trackable enough: Jacques Fillon, who gave up his life trying to save a fellow passenger following a bus crash in northern Sweden. But the man was something of an enigma in this rural community, and his death exposes his greatest secret: Jacques Fillon never existed at all.

Dan is tasked with uncovering Fillon’s true identity—but can he do so before his own past catches up with him?

A Death in Sweden starts with a very memorable scene and the rest of the book seeks in some way to make sense of what happened in that scene; uncover the mystery behind it.  As Dan Hendricks seeks to put the pieces together he begins to attempt the same thing in his own life.  Who is he really?  What does he value and what future does he want for himself?

The problem is that he is caught in the middle of a secret but very real battle between powerful people.  Loyalties are murky, trust is hard to come by, and each decision seems to be one of life and death.

The thread that starts with that bus trip winds its way through Madrid, Paris, Sweden, Washington DC, the Middle East, Berlin, and back to Sweden.  Along the way, Hendricks has to stay alive, collect enough information and answers to perhaps buy himself time and/or a future, and solve the enigma that is Jacques Fillon.  The question is whether the former can help with the later and whether he can survive long enough to find out.

And just to complicate things, Wignall throws in a romantic interest.  So Hendricks has another set of emotions and thoughts to wrestle with and find answers to.

A Death in Sweden reads like a mix of genres: espionage, mystery and action thriller.  The mystery element is tied to the bus ride that kicks off the novel and the questions that underlay the identities of the two individuals who are the focus of that scene.

The espionage element comes in because the people and agencies involved in seeking to solve these mysteries are spies and governments.  Underneath it all is a battle for information and power with political, and life and death, consequences.

The action thriller aspect comes about as the battle moves from information to brute force.  Ultimately, Hendricks chooses violence as a partial solution to his dilemma.  Sometimes the violence is forced on him and sometimes he goes on the offensive.  The action elements don’t dominate the book necessarily but they come in intense bursts.

As noted above, however, weaved into all of this is also a romantic interest.  Which forces Hendricks to deal with questions that he was not prepared to wrestle with and choices he had not anticipated.  This leads to a contrast, maybe even an incongruity, between the cold and violent nature of Hendricks profession and actions and his relationship with Inger and his thoughts of a different future.

In fact, this is another thread that runs through the novel.  Is it possible to truly leave behind a life of secrecy and violence?  Can someone like Hendricks settle down and build a “normal” life?  The ending hints at no but also leaves it ambiguous.

Starting with that very first review of People Die I have wondered about Wignall’s almost amoral perspective.  His characters live and act in a world where traditional morality seems not to apply or must at least be set aside in some sense.

A Death in Sweden shares this perspective in some ways but also incorporates other perspectives.  Hendricks is pulled by the loyalty and dedication of a variety of characters he encounters; from Fillon and the friends/colleagues he is seeking to help survive to the families impacted by the history he is trying to uncover and decipher.  And his relationship with Inger also involves a pull toward commitment and normalcy.

I don’t want to accuse Wignall of aiming for mainstream fiction or coldly calculating the value of a romantic interest in a book like this, but it did change the feel of the novel for me.  Not bad, just different.

A Death in Sweden is a quick and entertaining read.  With a nice blend of tension, mystery, action and, yes, a little romance.  It isn’t really an action thriller and not your typical spy thriller either.  It felt to me more like a mystery with espionage and action elements.

If like me, you are facing the start of a cold and bleak winter, A Death in Sweden would make a good read for an afternoon bundled up on the couch with a hot beverage.