01 January 2001

Disorder - Paddy Magrane

DisorderDisorder by Paddy Magrane is the first of a new series of novels to feature damaged psychotherapist Sam Keddie. It’s a rollicking conspiracy thriller in which Keddie goes on the run to unravel the mystery behind the death of a top politician.

The blurb will likely get you lost in the souks:

When Cabinet Minister Charles Scott commits suicide, his troubled psychotherapist, Sam Keddie, is consumed with guilt. But then a shadowy Government official visits, demanding details of his sessions with Scott. Bound by client confidentiality, Keddie refuses to help.

Guilt is soon the least of his problems.

The therapist finds himself threatened – and forced on the run. Digging into the Minister’s death, he follows a trail from London to Marrakesh. There, hounded by relentless pursuers, he comes face to face with Scott’s dark secret – one with the power to topple a Government and ignite a volatile region.

With his enemy closing in, Keddie must expose the truth – before he’s silenced forever.

There’s a real old-school charm to Disorder. I’ve always found chase thrillers set in the south of England are a tough act to pull off. The Home Counties don’t have that epic sense of space you get in the US, of course, everything is too cramped and parochial. But Magrane does well to inject a sense of danger and paranoia into the everyday parts of London and the countryside, and riffs nicely off familiar book and movie sequences.

There are some terrific set-pieces, including a scene where Keddie and his companion Eleanor - the daughter of the dead minister - are trapped in a sinking car, and Magrane always keeps Keddie’s desperate escape from shadowy forces in motion – the action moves to the hot and riot-ridden streets of Marrakesh and even into the heart of Downing Street.

Keddie is a likeable and empathetic hero, thrown into a situation way beyond his control, and I like the way Magrane takes time to develop the characters and motivations of his antagonists, the army man Frears and the hugely-powerful politico Stirling, so that they men who never tip over into moustache-twirling pastiche.

I’ve got a couple of reservations, though. For one, I’d like to have seen some more twists and turns. Disorder is pacey but the story unfurls in a straight line. Magrane sticks to the dead centre of the narrative road and takes his corners carefully. You always get a sense of where the story is heading, where sometimes you’d really like him to jerk the wheel and spin off somewhere unexpected.

Also, having a psychotherapist as a protagonist is a terrific conceit – the details about Keddie’s job are fascinating - allowing his protagonist to dive into the murky terrain of the mind, as well as cover physical ground. I guess the novel isn’t called Disorder for nothing.

But, despite that, the writing doesn’t throw up a lot of emotional heat. You never really get a desperate sense of the anguished turmoil of the characters, despite the painful psychological damage with which Magrane burdens his characters. For example, in one sequence, the claustrophobic Keddie is trapped - but the terror of his response is fleeting and a potentially gripping set-piece is left largely unexplored. In further Keddie thrillers it would really be good to draw out more of that sense of deep-rooted trauma in the prose - and there are some fucked-up psychological revelations in Disorder, that’s for sure. It would really take the writing to the next level.

However, there’s a lot to like here. Keddie is a vulnerable and quick-witted hero, and hardly impervious, and Magrane moves him from place to place, from the streets of London to the angry streets of Marrakesh – the tense descriptions of the chaos and riots there are tasty and atmospheric – with a sure hand.

Other reviewers have mentioned Robert Harris as an inspiration - and there are obvious nods to Hitchcock in the novel - but you can also sense the presence of the satisfied ghost of John Buchan in Magrane’s tale of a decent man taking his unflinching fight for the truth right to the very top.

Thanks to the author for the review copy of Disorder. Paddy Magrane gives us The Intel on Disorder and his writing regime very soon – so look out for that.

Next week we’ve got more telly news, a review – and one of the biggest names in the writing business gives us The Intel on his writing!