Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
British agent Daniel Swann is sent back to Thailand to recover a small black box from the bottom of the Andaman Sea. But as his friends are beheaded and he's pursued by the CIA, Swann realises his mission is personal; someone wants him dead.
I've usually leaned more towards mysteries than spy thrillers, but I found myself really enjoying this tale from Canterbury author Andrew Grant. It's an unabashed 'airport thriller', but the way Grant brought Thailand to life as a backdrop, along with a really propulsive narrative drive, kept me hooked and the pages whirring.
Daniel Swann is a British agent who's ordered back to Thailand by his bosses. It's an area of the world he's avoided since he killed the son of a top underworld boss, but his government paymasters need him to recover a valuable item from the bottom of the ocean. But Swann's planned mission goes awry, and his friends and contacts start turning up dead, beheaded one by one. The CIA is after Swann too, and he doesn't know who to trust in the shifting sands of the spy game, so he turns to an unexpected source for help: the Southeast Asian underworld.
Death in the Kingdom is one of those books that some may dismiss as pure masculine derring-do, a James Bond-esque thriller full of exotic locations and villains, treacherous allies, and a hero capable of impressive physical feats even when under extreme pressure. And it certainly is all of that - but I also felt there was a bit more to it too. For whatever reason, I just really enjoyed it, surprisingly so in fact. It was a fun read, and one that had a few layers to it beyond the standard spy thriller tropes.
Perhaps chief among its merits is the way Grant evokes the Southeast Asian setting. He brings the various locations vividly to life on the page; you can feel the heat, the grime, the sweat dripping down your back. This is a book with some cool visuals, and I can easily imagine it transferring well to the screen. Furthermore, I found Daniel Swann to be an engaging main character. Sometimes we are following his first-person perspective, and at other times there's a broader viewpoint, but throughout he came across as having a nice mix of British secret agent familiarity along with enough wee tweaks to be a bit different, to be fascinating and easily follow-able.
Swann isn't a superhero. He obviously has some skills, otherwise he couldn't and wouldn't be in the spy game, but he's more a 'do the job' guy, a man who questions himself and his work, who makes errors and is fallible, while also being capable of bravery and action. A realist rather than an idealist.
The story in Death in the Kingdom is pretty gritty, with the darkness of some of the deeds perhaps ameliorated by the sea and sunshine of the location. There were some minor blips in pacing, and you do need to read any book of this type with a healthy suspension of disbelief, but overall I'm very glad I picked this one up. It's a fun, absorbing read with some fascinating characters, good action, and a terrific location. I'd definitely read more books from this Andrew Grant (there are other authors with the same name), particularly his second Daniel Swann thriller, Singapore Slingshot.
I originally read and really enjoyed this thriller a few years ago. I included it in a crime fiction round-up for the Herald on Sunday in 2011, but never did a fuller review here on Crime Watch at the time.
Craig Sisterson is a journalist from New Zealand who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 140 crime writers, discussed crime fiction at literary festivals and on radio, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. Follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson