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Lies: A Jacob Stearne Thriller

by Seeley James

Rating: *****

Seeley James returns with more Sabel Security adventures, this time with Pia Sabel’s right-hand man and ex-Army Ranger, Jacob Stearne at the helm.

Set in Latvia, Stearne is sent in to locate a hard drive containing details of a trillion-dollar revolutionary green technology which is possibly being sheltered by Betty Bardon, Hollywood actress, particle physicist, and her young band of physicist acolytes, the Electric Liberation Army.

Problem is, Stearne has been arrested on a watertight murder charge, the real killer is on the loose, and he is far from the only person who is interested in the hard drive….

I read The Rembrandt Decision* by James last year, one of his Sabel Mysteries, and found it an accomplished and gripping thriller. Consequently, I was fairly confident I would be in solid hands with Lies. And, indeed I was.

In Pia Sabel and Sabel Securities, James has created a richly engrossing framework in which to set his extremely capable thrillers. Lies, appears on the surface, a little more light-hearted than the Pia Sabel mysteries.

Nonetheless, there is nothing superficial about the novel. James’ knows precisely when to focus seriously on the intricacies of the story and its various angles. His attention to detail, plot construction, and character building are impeccable and well-researched. The Latvian setting is nicely utilized, realistic, and complementary to the action without overstatement.

The story always remains on the right side of accessible and, despite Sabel’s limitless wealth helping Stearne out of a few tight spots, it’s consistently credible. The serpentine plot twists and froths with tangents and reveals, never losing continuity and driven by an intriguing and duplicitous bunch that are lying to each other, themselves, and quite often, the reader.

The novel is fast-paced, chapters are short and given from the perspective of Stearne, in first person. Stearne’s chapters are interleaved with third-person viewpoints from Captain Marisa Redgrave of the Latvian police and Betty Bardon. It ensures the reader is given a developed view, albeit, with intrigues and slants, of the action and cast.

Given his more immediate viewpoint, Stearne’s chapters carry the novel and he is the only individual whom the reader is confident is not lying, although he doesn’t always make the reader aware of exactly what he’s thinking and/or planning.

However, he is an excellently reassuring main protagonist who could have easily been prototypical, but James’ gifts him quiet integrity, genuine empathy, and compassionate curiosity about his surroundings, when appropriate.

Chatty and conversational with the reader, he is amusing in his observations and unapologetic in his actions. However, underneath the ruthless proficiency, lies a man with some unexamined emotional baggage and a slight sense of inferiority.

This is explored through his internal discussions with the imaginary god, Mercury, who appears in Stearne’s more stressful moments. I’ve never been a fan of this technique finding it becomes hackneyed, but James’ pitches these mental dialogues with the right amount of banter and interest, seamlessly slotting them into the narrative.

He also has a good eye for detailing his characters with quick, perceptive prose that deftly explores the subtleties of simmering emotions through physical reactions and expressions. Betty Bardon, in particular, was very well-depicted in this regard.

Symone Blackworthy, the 18-year-old whom Stearne rescues from a brothel and who becomes deeply attached to him, I found a touch irritating and unnecessary at first. Then the reader is made privy to her backstory, and this places a very different complexion on her behavior and she becomes integral to both Stearne and the story.

Lies: A Jacob Stearne Thriller is a high-octane and hugely entertaining thriller that proves compulsive to read. Highly recommended.

*Click here for my review of The Rembrandt Decision.

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