The Late Train to Gipsy Hill by Alan Johnson
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|The Late Train to Gipsy Hill by Alan Johnson|
|Reviewer: Peter Magee|
|Summary: A politician writes fiction? Yes - but this time, it really works and this is a great read. Definitely recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: September 2021|
|External links: Author's website|
We all know people like Gary Nelson, although we probably haven't taken much notice of them. They live quiet, uneventful lives and stay mostly under the radar. In a city like London, that's quite easy - and even Gary's three flatmates largely ignore him. The highlight of his day is watching a beautiful young woman apply her makeup as she goes to work on the train each morning: he'd love to ask her for a date but he doesn't have the courage. Then, on his homeward commute, Arina speaks to him and asks for his help. Before long he finds himself on the run from mobsters, Russian secret agents and the Metropolitan police.
Recently we've had a spate of books by a series of people who might be loosely described as 'celebrities' of one sort or the other. Occasionally it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the book was published more on the basis of reputation (also known as 'saleability') rather than literary merit. I worried that this might be the case here. Alan Johnson was a Labour MP for twenty years and held a total of five cabinet positions (including Education Secretary, Health Secretary and Home Secretary) in the governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The man's a much-respected politician - it was widely felt that Labour's fate might have been very different had he been the Labour leader in the 2017 and 2019 elections - but can he write?
In reality, I had no doubt that Johnson could write - I had a great deal of pleasure from reading his autobiographies - but writing a thriller requires a completely different skill-set. The characterisation is good: Gary and Arina make a compelling if slightly unlikely combination. There's a lot more to Arina Kaplin - ostensibly a waitress - than meets the eye and I came to care about the outcome. There's a large cast of characters and they all come off the page fully-formed.
The plotting is good too. The outline of the plot sounds rather hackneyed - unassuming man and waitress take on Russian mobsters, their secret service and the police - but Johnson manages to breathe real life into the story. He makes it feel original and his relaxed writing style meant that the pages turned very quickly and the ending was most satisfying. I do hope that we'll see more thrillers from Johnson and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a review copy to the bookbag.
For more London-based thrillers, we can recommend Mick Herron's Slough House series, featuring the inimitable Jackson Lamb.
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