The latest crime thriller featuring chess-playing Detective Chief Inspector Davies King, Behead the Serpent by Paul Anthony (@PaulAnthonysPen) is subtly different from previous entries in the series, but no less fun. Although Serpent can be enjoyed all by itself, the plot does complete an overarching storyline begun in the previous book, Moonlight Shadows (see my review).
Having been foiled by Davies King in their attempt to secure a computer memory stick holding software worth untold billions, rogue superspy Mansfield de Courtenay Baron — “The Baron” — and former-IRA soldier Conor O’Keefe are on the run as Britain’s most wanted men. The Baron and O’Keefe haven’t gone far from King’s home in the seaside town of Crillsea, however, and they haven’t given up on getting that memory stick or finding some other way to make themselves rich.
In short order these two criminals mastermind a series of attacks that spiral upwards from ransacking Davies King’s car and apartment to bombing the Crillsea harbor. The message is clear: give up the memory stick or face the consequences, which could be quite dire indeed once the Baron and O’Keefe demonstrate their ability to turn out the lights throughout all of Britain and parts of the continent and North America.
Davies King loves a good challenge on the chessboard, but playing against the Baron he seems to always be a step behind, reacting to threats when he would prefer to impose his will against an unseen opponent who has demonstrated a mastery of cyberspace — a location that is emerging as a pitched battlefield for nations fighting against fanatical individuals and groups as well as other nations. Can the brainy Detective Chief Inspector figure out a stratagem mid-game to stop his opponents before catastrophe strikes?
Although the vast majority of this novel is set in and around Crillsea, there are elements of an international thriller in Behead the Serpent, which includes the return of all my favorite series characters, including head of the Metropolitan Police Flying Squad “Big Al” Jessop, Detective Inspector Annie Rock, Archie and the rest of the regulars at the Anchor pub, and Claudia, Davies King’s right-hand at the Crillsea “nick.”
As I mentioned, this entry in the series seemed a bit different to me. The overwhelming emphasis is on the major plot of taking down the Baron and O’Keefe, with less attention paid to a few small side issues that crop up; although mostly set in Crillsea time spent in the Anchor pub with its denizens is limited, and overall there is more of what I’ve called, for lack of a better term, a James Bond-ish feel. Not that it doesn’t make for a good story, it does — I suppose I personally revel in the smaller details surrounding the Crillsea police.
Mr. Anthony has said next Davies King book is due out after the New Year and personally I can’t wait. For more information on Paul Anthony and his books, visit his blog.