Title: The Payback
Publisher: Bantam Press
Hardback: 352 pages
Publication Date: 17/02/2011
The publication of a new Simon Kernick thriller is always something to be excited about. But his new novel, The Payback, is one that I have been anticipating even more eagerly than normal, as it sees the return of one of his most compelling characters, amoral ex-policeman turned assassin Dennis Milne [who was last seen in 2005’s A Good Day To Die].
The majority of the novel takes place in Manila [making it a ‘thriller in Manila’!!! Sorry, that was a pretty lame joke], where Milne has been sent to carry out an ‘assignment’ for his employer, Dutch gangster Bertie Schagel. There he encounters DI Tina Boyd, herself on a mission, but one of a very different and personal nature – revenge. For she is searching for the man she believes to be responsible for her ex-lover’s murder [once again, Tina’s nickname, The Black Widow, is proven to be incredibly apt. Men close to her are always dying!]. The result of this collision between two of Kernick’s most memorable characters is completely explosive . . .
And when you add into the mix Kernick’s best [or worst?!] villain, paedophile crime lord Paul Wise, it makes for an unputdownable read. One that bears all of the hallmarks associated with a Kernick thriller: the plot is fast and action-packed, there is plenty of violence and a number of characters for whom the phrase ‘morally ambiguous’ is entirely appropriate [and in fact that’s probably being kind to most of them!].
But probably the biggest strength of Kernick’s writing is its feel of authenticity. His detailed research and use of contacts in the Metropolitan Police can definitely be seen on the page, but he is also clever and experienced enough as an author to never allow his research to weigh down, or get in the way of, the most important part of the book – the plot. And The Payback really does have a cracking plot, one that keeps the reader constantly guessing and makes you need to know how it will all end.
However, the standout element of this novel for me is Dennis Milne. That Kernick has used him so sparingly over the course of his previous novels means that Milne remains a fresh and completely fascinating character [The Payback is Kernick’s tenth published book, but only the third one in which Milne has appeared]. For, whilst what he does is heinous and often horrifically cold-blooded, Milne shows enough flashes of guilt and shame and is painted with enough depth to make the reader feel a degree of sympathy for him that you wouldn’t normally have for a character who is, in effect, a mass murderer.
Fast and bloody, The Payback drags you in from the first killing [which occurs within the first few pages]. And as the bodies continue to pile up and the twists keep coming you won’t be able to look away.