A quick glance at Mick Herron’s bibliography and you might think you’re dealing with some sort of thrill-ride, crime and mystery version of Danielle Steele. Many (if not all) of the synopses of his novels seem to begin the same way… a disgraced, down-on-his-luck, former secret agent based somewhere in the UK is out to avenge someone’s death.
Frankly, I’d be lying to you if I told you Nobody Walks is much different than what I just described. The agent is Tom Bettany, the somewhere in the UK is London and the someone’s death is his estranged son.
What separates this story, however, from so many other of its crime and espionage-thriller brethren is its ability to meld characters you actually care about with a storyline that really hums.
We meet Tom Bettany and his life is, by all regards, a mess. He works in a meat packing plant in remote France, lives alone and has no friends or relatives to speak of besides one man he occasionally (if rarely) sees outside of the plant. His beard is shaggy, his hair long and unkempt… without much imagination, he’s a downtrodden version of Liam Neeson in… well, any Liam Neeson movie from the last 7-10 years.
Everything gets kicked into high gear when he finds out that his son—ironically named Liam—has died from a fall off his balcony while smoking weed. If the story sounds fishy to you, you can imagine how it feels to this Manchurian candidate of a former agent, as his super spy skills get immediately revved into high gear.
Before you know it, we’re back in London, both literally and figuratively walking the streets of Tom Bettany’s troubled past. We learn about the events that ripped apart his family, why he and his son stopped having contact with one another, what Bettany did in his past life as an undercover agent infiltrating the mob, and who is just chomping at the bit to have him back in town.
Deftly, Herron spins together several intersecting storylines as Bettany attempts to figure out who was behind his son’s murder while avoiding a potential similar fate at the hands of either his former government boss, the gang he helped put behind bars, or a local drug leader.
If it doesn’t all make a ton of sense now, that’s because I don’t write crime novels. Mick Herron does, and he does a damn good job.
Start with Nobody Walks, but don’t be surprised if you’re soon looking at the rest of that catalog.