As a youngster, one of my favourite books, was the Modesty Blaise adventure The Silver Mistress. I don’t even know if it is one of Peter O’Donnell’s best Modesty stories, but it hit me at just the right age – and when I found out what the ‘silver mistress’ alludes to, it just blew my tiny mind. For those who haven’t read it, it is Modesty, during hand to hand combat with a villain, naked and covered in a gray mud, which under the moonlight makes her look silver. You can see how that would appeal to a teenage boy, right? So I love Modesty. She exists in a place in my heart that only sentimentality and nostalgia can bring. But her adventures are very much of their time. That’s not a criticism, but a rather obvious observation.
But what if there were Modesty Blaise stories being written now? What would they be like in this post 9/11 world. Of course, this a huge leap, but maybe they may be a little like Bolt Action, which features a heroine named Tristie Merrit. Tristie is an orphan, who found a life – a community – as a soldier. And an exceptional soldier at that. One, that even the most hard-nosed, woman hating members of the armed-forces, had to admit, was a damn fine soldier.
From page 15:
Because the truth was best summed up by one of the DS, a barrel-chested warrant officer from Merthyr Tydfil whose first combat was almost twenty years before. Purposefully he’d tabbed every step of the Downs alongside Tristie, watching her, willing her to cock up.
Back in the sergeant’s mess, everybody crowded around to hear the Welshman’s verdict…Aye, Lads, You’re Not Wrong There…She’s A Pretty One, I’ll Give You That… He couldn’t stop himself from beaming with something like pride… But More Than The Fact She’s Damn Good Looking, Let Me Tell You, She’s F*cking Brutal Too. In the mess that was an astonishing rare compliment towards a female, let alone a female officer.
But Tristie’s life as a soldier has come to an end – after she is badly injured near Lashkar Gar in Afghanistan. The thing is, after rehabilitation she is dumped in a run-down barracks in South Wiltshire, and there she discovers that the the armed forces amenities have been sub-contracted out to large corporations. Corporations that are happy to take the governments money, but are not so keen on putting that money back into accommodation and services for the armed forces. Basically the army is going to shit, while a few fat-cats live off the riches and get even fatter.
Now as a civilian, this almost abusive treatment for people who have served on the front line for their country is unacceptable. It’s there and then she decides to do something about it. Now in my intro I took the lazy option of comparing Tristie to Modesty Blaise, and in some ways that is fair enough – they share many similar characteristics – but if you’ll forgive me – here she displays qualities more akin to Major Reissman – that’s Lee Marvin – in The Dirty Dozen.
Tristie sets about putting a team together for a mission – her own ‘dirty half dozen’. The guys are known as Whiffler, Button, Ferret, Shoe, Piglet and Weasel – and each is a specialist in a field of military endeavor, whether it be shooting, explosive’s, vehicles etc. She calls her team Ward 13.
Tristie and Ward 13 then set about extorting the Ministry of Defense for a sizable amount of money after stealing a computer with the protocols for Britain’s Trident missile system. The money however, is not for Ward 13’s personal use, but to be directed to a series of veteran’s charities.
Meanwhile as on the other side of the world, Pakistani General Ali Mahmood Khan has covertly been taken into custody as it is believed that he has siphoned off $247 million dollars in US funds which were intended for equipment and facilities for the Pakistani forces to use against al-Qaeda. But General Khan is a wily old critter, and had put in place a plan of vengeance against the west should he be killed or disappear, and his capture and rendition has inadvertently put his diabolical scheme into action. One man who suspects something is going to happen – but he doesn’t know what – is the CIA’s top man in Islamabad, Bill Lamayette. However Lamayette doesn’t have any concrete proof to back this up, so his opinions and ideas are given short shrift by his superiors, and he is left to go it alone.
In fact, Bolt Action features three main story threads playing out. The first concerns Tristie and her band of brothers, then there’s Lamayette’s quest for answers in Pakistan, and finally there is the office bound actions of Sheila Davane, who is one of the heads of M.I.5.
Unfortunately Lamayette is correct and a terrorist attack is in the works. The operation is called Macchar (or mosquito), and it involves the hijacking of a plane on route from Manchester to New York. This flight also happens to be the same flight that Tristie Merrit, Whiffler and Button are on. I’m sure you don’t need me to fill in the blanks now and can see where the story is headed. And while the central premise of the story may have done the rounds over the years, what lifts this story above the pack is the way it is told.
The first thing you will notice about Bolt Action is that it is written in the present tense. Most novels these days, and either written in past tense or in first person. So for example, rather than saying ‘she picked up a gun’, Bolt Action would say, ‘she picks up a gun’. Obviously writing in this way would not change the plot, but what it does, is drop the reader right into the middle of the action. Rather than having the story reported to you, you are in fact a witness to the action. Which is probably just what you want in an thriller novel.
Bolt Action, despite its title isn’t too action packed. The ‘Bolt Action’ of the title actually refers to the locks on the cockpit doors. The story does contain passages of action, but this book is a thriller in the old sense of the word. It’s sort of like the literary equivalent to an Alfred Hitchcock movie, with each incident building upon the next, ratcheting up the suspense and tension.Once the ill-fated flight takes off from Manchester to New York, the pages can’t be turned fast enough and it becomes a white-knuckle read.
From the Blurb:
The pilots are dead. The cockpit door is locked.
Since 9/11, the door between the pilots and the passengers on an airliner must be locked and impossible to break down.
But what if the pilots are dead?
Tristie Merritt leads a renegade band of ex-soldiers. Their daring scam will take millions from a furious British government and give it to veterans` charities – if MI5 don`t catch up with them first.
But, faced with the ultimate terrorist outrage at 36,000 feet, MI5 and the CIA find that Merritt is their one hope of preventing global disaster.
For more information about Charlie Charters, and Bolt Action, visit his website.