Lethal Profit – Alex Blackmore

UnknownAlex Blackmore instinctively understands a core fundamental of crime thriller fiction: make your protagonist’s life fucking horrible.

The heroine of her debut novel Lethal Profit is repeatedly kidnapped and attacked, beat-up, tied-up, threatened and intimidated, relentlessly pursued across Paris by henchmen with guns and syringes full of poison, and generally made so utterly paranoid that she doesn’t know who to trust.

So I think it’s safe to say, in the first instance, that Lethal Profit is action-packed. Wait a minute, you’re saying, you’re getting ahead of us. Give us some context, read us the blurb:

In the darkest parts of the City of Light Eva Scott is searching for her brother’s killers. She is caught up in a tangle of deception he left behind, facing violent assault, brutal murderers and deeply embedded corporate corruption.

At the heart of it is a dirty biotech business making a lethal profit from compromising human health. Behind that, an organisation with a devastating viral blackmail tool. Their targets? Global power, capital and manipulation.

And Eva.

Raymond Chandler famously remarked that when in doubt have a man come in the door with a gun, and Blackmore takes that to heart. Poor old Eva’s taken a few days off work to search for her missing brother and she’s plunged into a life-or-death game of cat-and-mouse. The poor woman is tied-up, attacked and assaulted, run off the road, kidnapped, shot and nearly syringed to death on numerous occasions. I’d imagine she would quite happily never have to see a piece of duct-tape ever again. It’s lucky for Eva that she’s accompanied for the most part by her deeply-ambiguous guardian angel, Leon.

Blackmore doesn’t flinch about connecting the dots of her complex plot with a bit of gratuitous action, but actually, the author has a good sense of how to construct a plot, and is careful to tie up all the intricacies of the story – featuring malevolent algae, bioengineering and  mysterious corporations – in a little bow at the end. But you really get a sense in Lethal Profit of an author finding her feet. And if the finished article doesn’t quite measure up to its own heady aspirations, then you can’t fault her commitment to the cause.

As the plot thickens around the half way mark, and Eva’s own backstory emerges, the story grows in confidence. Blackmore starts playing with family secrets and double-crosses, and we get a greater sense of what’s at stake for her heroine as she tries to discover the truth behind the conspiracy her brother may have been involved in.

But the pacing is off at times. Sometimes the action, elongated out for pages at a time – and often described in fastidious detail – slows down the book rather than giving it momentum, and the action can get repetitive. Some pruning, some elimination of word repetition, would tighten the whole thing up considerably.

You get a palpable sense in Lethal Profit of a new author finding her way, finding out what works for her, trying different things, playing with the mechanics of storytelling, nailing a style. She’s given herself a large canvas here – an international conspiracy, no less – and Lethal Profit can be a gut-busting Genre smorgasbord of references.

At times, it’s a down-and-dirty tale of survival, a la Taken; a hi-tech corporate thriller; a 70s style political conspiracy; a Bond-style spy drama. That’s a heady, intoxicating mix. Lethal Profit sometimes falls a little short of its ambitions. But, hell, as a writer I’ve no doubt that Blackmore’s going to get where she wants to go.

I’m thrilled to say that Alex Blackmore takes part in The Intel very soon — so look out for that!

Thanks to Alexandra Bolton at No Exit for the review copy.

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