Best known for his Roman epics, Anthony Riches has set aside sword and sandals for a contemporary high-octane series. The Protector novels feature lone wolf Mickey Bale and Target Zero is his second full-throttle outing after last year’s Nemesis. The action flits between London and various international locations as Bale is caught between the SIS and their latest target, Russian oligarch Pavel Salagin. Of course, Bale has his own agenda too and this will be right up your alley if you love the Jack Reacher series.
In Nemesis, Bale was an elite close protection officer for the UK home secretary. In other words, he’s a bodyguard. After his sister died of an apparent overdose, his off-the-books activities kicked in and he went on a vendetta against all involved. Now, Bale has been forced off the force and in Target Zero the rogue cop has become a gun for hire. However, he still has a sense of right and wrong, and woe betide anyone about to get in his way.
The Essex Police elite Field Support Unit is heavily armed and highly trained – ready to go at a moment’s notice. Mostly they maintain a reassuringly visible presence in the community but then they get the call. An Islamist terror cell is on the move. Four men are in a car on the M11 en route to London, and the unit must intercept them. An attack on a major target in the capital is imminent.
The local cops use stingers to trap the car and the FSU team move in thinking it’s safe, but their intelligence is flawed. As they approach the suspects one of them has that look about him, sergeant Pearce spots it. As he shoots the suspect he’s a fraction of a second too the late and a bomb is detonated. The terrorist and four officers are killed. The weapon is unusual – a Sunburst missile warhead, and that could only have come from one place. Russia.
Meanwhile, Bale joins a private security company as a bodyguard. He’s a freelancer but he isn’t as free as he thinks. The security services have their claws into him because they know about his off-the-books killings while he was a cop. MI5 wants Bale for a dangerous job that only an outsider can do and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Britain is under threat from a highly organised terror plot and although he doesn’t like being blackmailed Bale knows what started as an explosion in Essex could escalate with a terrible cost.
James Cavendish was forced out of the army by injury. His liaison job with the MI5 is dull but then the higher-ups decide he’s the man to bring Bale on board for this special mission. New intelligence suggests that the Russian GRU is behind the bomb. A plot instigated by Moscow to destabilise the West, upping the game from the Skripal-style attacks. Who knows how far they will go? MI5 believes Pavel Salagin has tight connections to the Kremlin so they pull strings to get Bale onto his team.
Bale is a holder of the George Cross and is in high demand. Employing him is good PR for Salagin. Meanwhile, with the first team dead Moscow has unleashed a new cell of terrorists planning a devastating and ambitious attack. This crew are former Spetsnaz. Elite Russian troops, they won’t make amateur mistakes. While Bale is spying on Salagin to see how close he is to Moscow’s terror operation the Spetsnaz team arrive in England.
Nemesis was a blistering opener for an explosive thriller series – simply unputdownable. This story is a little more controlled. There’s a slightly slower rhythm to Target Zero. As Bale is no longer solely focused on personal revenge but is co-opted into the security services, his motivation is slightly less urgent. Of course it becomes more personal as the story develops so this is a minor caveat and natural with any ongoing series. Mostly the action is hot and hard and page-turningly entertaining.
Just go with the flow, this is top notch escapism and a great beach read. Riches peppers the plot with detail and procedure that feels authentic and grounded. He’s great on action and it’s easy to get behind Bale when he’s going to cut loose on the bad guys. It’s Reacheresque but not a copy, there’s plenty of zeitgeist and originality here.
Head of Zeus
CFL Rating: 4 Stars