Saturday 26 November 2011

The Ringer by Greg Hunt

It is not often I write reviews for people I know first hand or have met in the flesh but there was something admirable in the way this author has created his story from scratch and self-published it with a view to distributing it amongst the niche markets that will relate to the locations and themes of the book. The Ringer is now available. Find out more at Troubador.

Archie Malcolm is a naval officer, young, fit and keen to prove himself. Life is good; he has great friends, a hobby that keeps him out of trouble and he may just have met the love of his life, but it doesn’t seem quite enough. Archie is eager for a challenge and gets just that when his naval Commander tasks him with a mission that has so far turned up only empty leads. It seems the UK is cracking down on drug smuggling and new intelligence sends Archie and his hand-selected team off to the French Alps to investigate.

Meanwhile in South America, the seductive Natalia Morales, daughter of a notorious crime lord, is heading for the UK to see through her part in the family business. Local contacts await her arrival but unfortunately for Archie the centre of the drug plot lies closer to home than he expected. Friendships will be called into question, betrayal is definitely on the agenda and the ultimate question rides: will Archie get the girl?

With a gripping opening and a page-turning plot, the book tracks Archie’s progress as he works to uncover the drug plot and winds up tracing its roots to the last location he would have considered. Unexpectedly, his love interest Emma carries a fair section of the narrative and she faces problems of her own that inextricably link back to Archie. The plot is ripe with twists that keep the reader engaged up to the end.

I should explain that the title of this book refers to the hobby and frequent pastime of its protagonist – bell ringing. Campanology (which is the technical term for bell ringing) is a running theme in the book, not only playing a part in the action but also inviting us fully into Archie’s world and illustrating the social and practical concerns he faces in this aspect of his life. The book will certainly appeal to a niche market on this basis and bell-ringing enthusiasts will be thrilled at the level of detail and exposure the practice is given.

As someone who knows very little about campanology (and indeed had never heard the word campanology prior to opening the book) I did not feel isolated by the level of detail, rather I felt a satisfied sense of knowing a little more than I did before I read it and certainly for Archie at least there are more complex considerations to bell ringing than just pulling the rope. 

The action builds through Archie’s two worlds – his naval duties and his bell ringing – to a climax of Bond-style villainy, and should I ever enter a bell tower I suspect this book will be on my mind as a result of the highly visual reference. I shan’t tell you anymore; you will have to read it.

What is interesting is that the author uses an omniscient point of view and so throughout the novel the story plays out from every angle. The reader is fully immersed in each location and the roaming viewpoint gives opportunity to understand and empathise with each character’s motivations and desires at that given moment, no matter how small their part in Archie’s tale.

A sidestep from my usual genre fiction (fantasy/sci fi) this book is more akin to the action/thriller fast paced novels that fill airport bookshops and make for popular holiday reading. For me, in reading this book, complex multi-layered plots in imagined worlds gave way to a story that was driven more by the pace of reality and a need to know what comes next, which worked absolutely fine and provided a refreshing change to my usual reading material.

The Ringer is an easy read and a commendable debut novel, especially when you consider that it was written on a busy train on the author’s daily commute to and from a corporate office job. Escapism is a definite bonus and with a combination of descriptive prose and snappy scenes the reader is propelled from the UK to South America, the Alps and then drawn back again as Archie and the other characters converge to an unexpected climax. 

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