Review: Ratcatcher

Ratcatcher by Tim Stevens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read a few dry runs over the last few months, but this is at last, the real deal. A modern spy thriller with enough background depth, invention, style and substance to stand comparison with some of the besr of yester-year. A real page-turner and not loaded down with blather and unnecessary flannel. Speaking of which, this is quite probably the novel the reviewers quoted on the backs of recent Charles Cummings books thought they were reading. Their quotes of fulsome praise could be grafted onto the back cover of Ratcatcher and not cause any embarrassment to either party.

Ratcatcher is how a spy, or espionage thriller really should be. Old fashioned in attitude, in the way the story is approached, modern in execution (this is just my way of thinking, I’m perfectly prepared to be led off in the old straitjacket to the funny farm if enough of you disagree). Old fashioned but modern as well, in that several of the enemies are Russian. The Iron Curtain has been bought by the oligarcs, I suppose. If reviewers then, are going to throw words like ‘John‘ and ‘Le‘ and ‘Carre‘ about, they might as well get it right and throw them in the direction of excellent books like Ratcatcher and not half-baked efforts like ‘A Spy By Nature’ and the larger part of ‘A Foreign Country.’

So, the ‘Ratcatcher‘ of the title, is the main man of the book, one John Purkiss. He works for the British Secret Services and catches ‘dirty’ spies. Dirty ‘rats.’ Those spies who aren’t playing by the rules. Though of course, that would seem to me to be rule number one in the spy handbook – not to play by the rules. Oh, well. Anyway, a former highly placed British spy, ‘Fallon’, has gone rogue and gone missing, unbeknown to Purkiss, who thinks he’s in prison for killing Purkiss’ ex-fiancée (a rather traumatic event for Purkiss, as he witnessed it). Fallon suddenly appears, photographed on the streets of the Estonian capital Talinn. Interest is piqued, because it is the eve of a historic Estonian/Russian summit, where the respective Presidents are to meet and seal an agreement. Along with Fallon, there also surfaces a really rather unsettling rumour of a plan to disrupt said historic summit in a way that could plunge Europe, along with most of the rest of the world, back into the dark days of the afore-mentioned Cold War.

Purkiss as a lead character felt fully-realised and with a past and motive for the present that was plausible, believable and above all, interesting. Actually, the book as a whole reminded me of Jon Stock’s books and his lead character Daniel Marchant. And that’s a good thing. I think Jon Stock would have probably gone a little more balls-out in the final conclusion, but Ratcatcher is probably the better for not doing so.

‘Ratcatcher’ is a really rather excellent, well planned, well worked and thoroughly enjoyable thriller. There are plenty of twists and unforseen turns to lift it above a lot of the ones I read which fall back on the unlikely use of technology to paper over what was achieved in the good old days with nous, leg-work, chalk marks on the wall, or even just ‘gut-feelings.’ Whilst no one actually says “you bastard, Regan (or Purkiss)”, it felt sometimes like they might have wanted to. Tim Stevens is clearly a writer who knows his way round a spy thriller, and a writer I will look forward to reading a lot more of in the future.

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