Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
The Accident Man: Tom Cain, 18 May—30 June, 2011
My rating: ♦♦♦♦◊
Samuel Carver is the an assassin for hire, but only kills bad guys. He’s duped into causing the death of Princess Diana and is subsequently hunted by both his bosses as a lose end, and MI6 as a murderer. Joined with a glamorous Russian girl, he zips round the globe trying to stay alive.
Although riddled with cliché, Cain made a serious effort to keep the plot as fresh and dynamic as he could. There were a whole plethora of characters involved in multiple agencies, caught up in complex web of rivalries and hierarchies. On the whole, this added to the book and gave the story much more depth than a two-dimensional cat and mouse chase. Enemies of enemies became friends as well as foes. Having said that, I did at times struggle to remember everybody’s associations and there were characters who could have been missed out completely at no loss to the tale.
Cain has quickly become a master with structuring a story. Admittedly, the beginning was shaky. He didn’t seem sure of his writing style and it took a while for the book to find its feet and slide into a natural rhythm. Once the flow of the story began, Cain skilfully kept the pace going straight through to the end. He knew when to speed things up and when to slow them down, when to build tension and when to explode with action, when to chart the slow seconds and when to skim long days. The chapters also vary in length and it adds to the deliberate, carefully controlled pace that never runs away from Cain or shudders along the way.
The characters themselves were unremarkable. A little effort was made to make Carver a more rounded individual with a flat tailored to suit him, but on the whole he was just another bland hero. The Russian villains in particular were as clichéd as a shaken, not stirred martini would have been. Even Alix, in the main, was flat and underdeveloped, but her real allegiance was well written. In this respect, Cain actually played up to the cliché, knowing his reader would expect some double-crossing. Playing this in the cleverest way, there genuinely is no guessing where her loyalties are concerned.
Particular criticism has been made of Carver’s laborious details, for example the much-maligned identification of the Windows 95 operating system on Carver’s laptop. This is quite unfair. Had this been set today in 2011 with Carver loading Windows Vista, I would have agreed. But this is a story set in 1997, published in 2007 and so these minor details are carefully selected reminders to the reader that they are in the previous century. Though Carver has the very latest of everything, the very latest was a very long time ago and Cain considerately provides authenticity when he can. There were carefully selected details about the Diana’s death and the immediate aftermath, however as part of the book’s selling point I would have liked to have seen a great deal more. We were a bit short changed on the Diana front. The more excessive details in my view are perhaps with the explicitness of the violence – brain matter flies about a lot – and he seems to enjoy the cruder descriptions and sexual dialogue when it occasionally crops up with aplomb.
I was intrigued with how the book would end, requiring a moral conclusion which at the same time did not involve any exposure or capture inconsistent with what could theoretically happened, remembering to this day the Princess’s death is considered accidental. Cain pulled it off. The final chapters of the book plunge suddenly and unexpectedly into an incredibly dark tone. The content was so harrowing it made me uncomfortable, which I imagine was precisely the point. The ending itself was very unexpected and rather atypical of the genre. And yet, on reflection, it was completely appropriate and it feels there is almost no other way it could have ended. Haunting but fitting. As Cain continues to develop his craft, his future catalogue looks extremely promising indeed.