“Gone are the days where women could only be murdered or saved in crime fiction—it’s a pleasure to read such a strong bond between the female characters.”—Catherine Murphy reads High Pressure, by Sam Blake
by Catherine Murphy
One of the best things about finding a good crime fiction writer and following their work, is the sure knowledge that the next book will be just as good as the last. It’s an extra gift to anyone who enjoys reading crime: the reassuring comfort of trust in the author’s ability to spin a murdery, dark and twisty tale.
Sam Blake’s new book High Pressure was all of these things and more. By the end of the first page I was interested—by page twenty I had shut down the rest of my day, pulled a blanket over my lap, stocked up on tea and biscuits and settled in for the ride.
High Pressure is all about the characters. In the prologue, we meet Brioni. In the first chapter we meet Steve and Marissa, and later we meet Anna—and almost everything I can tell you about any of them would be a spoiler.
The story opens up straight away and the setting quickly becomes very real—London, in high summer: crowds, heat, money, and the fear of terrorist attack.
Gone are the quiet parks and the delicate sunlit days of nineties fiction, this London is a neat web of duplicity and anxiety. The city feels claustrophobic and intensely stressful, a perfect setting for a story about deception.
Brioni is just back from a year of travelling in the east, from India to Thailand, and as her story unfurls, the travelling experiences become a rich, colourful background to her present day situation in London, as does her family upbringing back home in Ireland.
Anna will be familiar to readers of Sam Blake—and to my delight she’s not the only recognisable character. Anna clearly needed her own book and I was pleased to see her take charge here, quietly and competently.
She’s smart and nice, and has a way of getting into a situation and picking out things the others can’t see.
She and Brioni are well matched in their newly found friendship and when Brioni’s sister disappears at the same time as an explosion kills and maims huge numbers of people in central London, Anna and Brioni team up to find out what’s happened.
The pace didn’t let up until the end and neither did the twists. As the main plot pulls us quickly through the story, Sam Blake drops little breadcrumbs here and there, tiny shining jewels, that kept me absolutely glued to the page.
Blake has a way of weaving each character’s tale effortlessly through the main story and although the cast feels small at first, it swiftly grows, and each new player brings their own game.
And of course, as with all good crime novels, the worlds become meshed together…
Twists and turns
I loved Brioni and I cared deeply about her relationship with Marissa. Anna is the kind of woman you want as a best friend and when we meet her, Brioni really needs a friend. I very much enjoyed the focus here on strong, intelligent female characters, and the balance between the cast leaned heavily that way.
Gone are the days where women could only be murdered or saved in crime fiction, but it’s always a pleasure to read such a strong bond between the female characters.
The tension is consistent through the action; even at quiet moments, the point of danger is there. By the end, the story has flipped so many times I felt dizzy in places – not a criticism at all, I like my books twisty and I want to be absorbed. I did hesitate over a couple of final reveals but what I love about Sam Blake’s books isn’t just the crime, it’s the writing:
Sam Blake isn’t afraid to tackle contentious issues. In High Pressure we have politics—the politics between countries, the politics of business—and of course family politics. Then we have the real bad guy here: terrorism.
The constant threat, the possibility of danger at all times, and the terrifyingly authentic attacks in this book—both the real and the fictional—are a big part of London life now, as with many cities.
Fanatical terrorists are everyone’s bogeyman and although this book shows the strength of a people still determined to stand strong and to keep going, there’s no denying the shock and fear of that situation.
The quandary in reviewing books like this is how to talk about them at all without giving away the story. I enjoyed the main reveals immensely, so I will stick to the code of silence and say only that if you like crime fiction then you’ll like High Pressure—and if you haven’t read Sam Blake’s books before now, where have you been?