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After being thoroughly unimpressed by David Wolstencrofts second novel I had no intentions of looking for this one but when I spotted it lurking on pile at a recent carboot sale for mere pennies (and I had just found a fiver in the ashtray of my car) I decided to give it a try.
Wolstencroft was one of the team behind the tv show Spooks so it will be no surprise to learn that his books follow the other people in the same line of work.
Good News Bad News, opens with two men tossing a coin to make a phone call, as one of the men goes to the phonebox to make the call a motorcycle appears on the street and blows the whole thing up.
From this point we are taken back two days to find out exactly why these two men are tossing coins before making calls and why it is that someone wants to kill them.
Charlie and George are forced to embark on a journey evading others from their agency and with noone to trust not even each other can they survive?
The plot was fast paced and there were enough twists thrown in to make it less than predicatable. The characters do remain quite sketchy although since they are spies this isnt a major downfall of the plot, nor did I notice any particularly contradictory areas. In general while this isnt a genre of book I tend to enjoy I did quite enjoy this, far more than I expected if truth be told, though this could have had something to do with the fact it cost me almost nothing (anyone else find they enjoy things more when they cost less?). As a debut novel this is good and I would have hoped that his second book would build upon this foundation, sadly for Wolstencroft his second was a major disappointment and despite this being better I probably still wouldnt bother to read anything else he writes.
I paid 20p for my copy but it can be found for sale on amazon marketplace and greenmetropolis for slightly more than this ( 1p plus p&p and £3.75 respectively). At 436 pages long its a decent read without being over long and given the pace of the plot this has to be about the longest the book should be without having gotten very confusing.
Good News Bad News was the debut novel of David Wolstencroft and overall it was a very enjoyable read and this was made even more so for me as the reviews I had read about it on Amazon had been quite mixed, in fact they tended to replicate the title of the book depending on the reviewers opinion and this meant that my expectations were not that high. The title of the book comes from a thinking game played by one of the characters where one person presents the upside of an action and the other gives the bad side and you progress a chain of thought back and forward. For example the good news is you have a car to escape in, the bad news is you have lost the key, the good news is you know how to jump start the engine, the bad news is the car is locked etc etc.
Essentially this is a thriller which focuses on two middle aged British spies Charlie and George although the main focus of the story is Charlie, both men are working at the same time as the only employees in a small photo developing store in Oxford Circus tube station although the fact that they are both spies is not known to either of them. The opening chapter actually has the two men flipping a coin to see who has to go and make a phone call which will mean certain death for the one making the call, following the blowing up of the telephone booth the story goes back in time to two days previous to unravel the tale and then move it forward to a conclusion.
Overall I enjoyed this book, it does have a couple of flaws in the plot line which rely heavily on a belief in coincidence and at times I almost felt like the author tried too hard to include plot twists and to draw all of the plot threads into a convenient ending linking them all together. In fact a couple of the plot twists were actually quite confusing and did not really seem to be necessary in my opinion and made the story a little less believable. On the positive side I found the storyline quite original in its conception and the book was very well paced. I especially liked the way the characters and storyline were gradually built and certainly my perception of both of the main characters changed throughout the book. Despite my earlier view of too many plot twists there was enough action and suspense in the book to maintain my interest and found this quite a hard book to put down at times.
Do not think because this is a spy thriller it is all James Bond gadgets and slick one liners, this book is very much in the Smiley People vein of spy writing, both of the main characters are painted as rather drab individuals that would not attract a second look in the street and it is this normality and lack of threat that they both seem to carry that contrasts well with the times when the demonstrate their training either in defending themselves or in practicing their spy craft. There is definitely an emphasis on the unglamorous side of the espionage world with both leading isolated and meagre existences. As a recruitment campaign for the secret service this book would not be very effective as it is packed with double cross and individuals working to their own agenda.
A number of interesting themes run throughout the book. The first is the uneasy relationship between the two main characters as they try to unravel the circumstances behind their coming together. The book does a good job of conveying the suspicions and lack of trust that dominates their lives and the fact that they are constantly on edge in every social situation. This helps to bring a gritty suspense filled edge to the book and especially as the relationship develops there are periods of hope however these often appear fragile and liable to collapse with both characters resorting back into their own isolated worlds.
The other theme I liked was the insights into the spies craft, I got the feeling that the book was well researched and not written in a Boys Own style of spy fiction. Not being a real spy I have no way of knowing if the descriptions of arranging a meet or canvassing an area before a safe drop are accurate but they appeared authentic to me and helped make the story believable even when some of the plot twists stretched that credibility.
This was definitely a book I enjoyed and it made good holiday reading, it is written in a simple style with much of the storyline line told from Charlie viewpoint although the story line does switch to both George and a couple of other characters. One fault I did find was that the other characters were rather under developed and it did get a bit confusing at times with one of the characters which meant I had to read one particular passage twice before I got my head around it. However at the end of the day I always ask myself if I found the book entertaining and the answer was definately a resounding yes.
I do think I will be checking out the subsequent work of Wolstencroft as this was a good effort. I got my copy via the website readitswapit as part of a swap. Published in paperback by Hodder the rrp on my copy is £6.99 however it is available on Amazon for £5.49 new or from a penny in the new and used section. The ISBN is 0340-83164-2.
Thanks or reading and rating my review.
The stunning debut novel from the creator of SPOOKS. Meet Charlie. An everyday bloke. Good news is, he has a job. Bad news is, it's in a photo kiosk. He whiles away the hours with his rather eccentric colleague George. But appearances can be deceptive. You see, there is one line of work where taking the world at face value can be very foolish indeed. Where trusting someone - anyone - is the most dangerous thing you can ever do. The truth is, Charlie and George have not been very honest with each other. The truth is, this isn't their number one career choice. Their real jobs are a hell of a lot more dangerous. It's time to come clean. But the truth could very well kill them.