Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
Contact Zero: David Wolstencroft, 27 April–10 May, 2011.
My rating: ♦♦♦◊◊
Contact Zero – always just out of reach, not quite what you’re looking for, not exactly what you expect. The fictitious entity from which the book takes its name is similar.
The story follows four spies who trained together and have been sabotaged on their first postings. They seek to reach Contact Zero, the illustrious escape route for spooks who wish to leave their profession alive.
The pace is excellent. Although the fragmented opening makes it a little tricky to become orientated at first, the tales unite quickly and from there on in the narrative is easy to follow. The gang don’t waste much time in any one location and are always on the move. Wolstencroft does well to paint numerous vivid sets, from ancient monasteries to seedy bars to palatial apartments.
The four lead characters, plus KB, have distinct personalities and abilities, so it really does feel like there are four different personalities progressing through the novel. I would have liked more development of the characters who seemed a little one-dimensional. Their suspicion of each other, while understandable, was underplayed and could have had a greater plot impact than it did. Similarly, the mole was unmasked far too quickly; there was hardly any time to guess before the cat was released from its bag.
The concept of Contact Zero seems quite credible and there was plenty of semi-fact (or very convincing fiction) that gives the story an authentic feel. Particularly, the training anecdotes add a layer of believability that enhance the novel’s
enjoyment, but it must be said that the elongated flashback over several chapters right after a cliffhanger effectively killed the tension stone dead by the time we returned to present day. The running motif of events at training hidden from the reader until closer to the end was well played – there was enough tension to create intrigue without over-egging the fact. The reveal was satisfying and explained the impact on relationships well.
In the end, only Nat’s character had a decent conclusion. Ben, Lucy and Jamie were all found themselves in situations a little too convenient which left me feeling cheated of a decent ending, while KB’s swansong was just daft.
Although not a sequel to Good News Bad News, comparisons will inevitably be drawn. Contact Zero did not enjoy the dizzy heights of its predecessor. The writing was amateurish and the structure – particularly with flashbacks – was off. There was no significant twist at the end or exciting conclusion; the plot dribbled out in contrast to its action-filled premiere. While Good News Bad News keeps you guessing to the very last page, Contact Zero doesn’t have the same impact.
In fact, the characters and plot would make excellent spies – quite good at the time, but instantly forgettable.