Today’s book review focuses on Catalyst by Michael Knaggs, a book which I was compelled to buy after Michael, very proactively, approached me in the Waterstones branch in Hull. I liked that it didn’t feel as though I was on the receiving end of a ‘hard sell’, he just really wanted to discuss his book with customers, regardless of whether or not they would be likely to buy it. For this reason, I decided to go with something different to what I would normally read. And it paid off.
When three brothers, the leaders of a brutal gang, are lured to an isolated street and shot dead by a mysterious stranger, the subsequent euphoria on the estate where they lived is picked up by the national press.
Tom Brown, an MP for the Opposition Party, whose constituency includes the estate, seizes the opportunity to exploit the story. Having built a reputation as a champion of law and order, he leads the crusade to implement a New Justice Regime with several supporters in tow, including local campaigner George Holland who embarks on a tour of the country to rally support for radical change.
When the killer is eventually caught and sentenced to life imprisonment, the gang sets out for revenge, targeting George for his outspoken condemnation of their activities and uncompromising proposals for their demise. They descend in large numbers on the quiet village where he lives, armed and ready to kill.
Meanwhile, Party Leader Andrew Donald is pursuing his own agenda…
This intriguing novel, the first of the Hotel St Kilda books, contains themes of politics, crime and the military with family drama at its heart, creating a wide appeal for readers both young and old.
What’s great about Catalyst is that it strikes you from the very first paragraph. Kicking off immediately with tense and fast-paced action, the first scene sets the tone for the rest of the book. There certainly are no slow parts in the novel.
The second chapter, in which an incredibly shocking and controversial incident occurs, really is the catalyst for all that follows throughout the rest of the book. The whole narrative is a response to that first scene, and the action, intrigue and controversy never lets up. What particularly struck me about the book is how authentic it felt, even with quite an extreme and controversial subject matter.
As stated in the blurb, the book starts off with the ruthless gunning down of three notorious gang members who have been terrorising the village and local town for years. When you read this passage, a moral debate rages within your head: am I shocked and appalled at this seemingly cold-blooded murder, or on some level do I feel slightly satisfied that they got what was coming to them?
That is what the whole book really centres around: the question of taking justice into your own hands when the policing system seems powerless to intervene. And off the back of that, the Opposition party runs its own election campaign – to deal with gang members and violent offenders far, far more harshly and strictly than ever before…
Each character within this book felt really real. So much so, that I felt genuinely sad for the residents of Cullen Field. It’s a horrible thought that the kind of trauma and fear and intimidation that the residents of this book go through actually happens in real life. The subject matter of this book is incredibly topical.
Tom Brown, an MP within the Opposition Party, is smart, intelligent, good-looking and a radical thinker. That is one side of him that we are exposed to. The other side is an exposure of his insecurities, his marital problems, and his familial worries and joys. He often struggles to balance his work and his private life and they bleed into one another: something that I bet a lot of people can relate to. Tom Brown is likeable, but depending on your personal viewpoint, he is also lost in his own idealism and wishful thinking. It’s really interesting to try to make up your mind about him as reader, as you go through the book. His wife has many opposing views to his, and that heightens the tension and intrigue surrounding their family life.
Another fascinating character within the book is George Holland, a resident of Cullen Field, who helps support Tom’s vision and campaigns for radical change. I couldn’t help but love this character: he is slightly naive, a little out of his depth, but so convinced by the movement which promises to fight back against gang youths that he takes on the task of convincing the general public with growing enthusiasm. Even if you disagree fundamentally with the process that he is fighting for, you can’t help but love and sympathise with George.
The most intriguing, though, is Jad, the gunman who shoots the three gang members at the beginning of the book. As you go through the novel, his history and back story are revealed, and it’s so gripping. Equally as thought-provoking are his reasons behind his actions (why did he gun the gang down, when he hasn’t lived in Cullen Field in years? Why did he give a false name and identity even after being charged with murder?) and his relationship with Tom Brown and his family. There’s more than meets the eye there.
The writing style, for some reason, reminded me a little bit of John Grisham’s; not so much in style, although there are similarities, but more the effect of the narrative. Though fairly straight forward and devoid of unnecessary adjectives or poetic devices, it just sucks you in and compels you to keep on reading. It doesn’t beat about the bush: the author knows what his going on in his world and he tells you in no uncertain terms. But the style is engaging, and keeps the reader hooked throughout. I always found myself wanting to know more; wanting to know what was going to happen next.
A quite surprising outcome of reading this book was that it allowed me to understand the workings and mindsets of local politicians and their job roles. OK, so perhaps some aspects within the book might have been exaggerated or changed with artistic license, but being taken through the story from both private and political angles really helped me understand how events can shape political manifestos and campaigns. It also shows how gang violence affects every aspect of modern society. And the reaction to it in this book really is extreme. (But that’s what makes it all the more exciting to read.)
This book will most definitely appeal to all crime novels and thriller fans, which I think goes without saying. But I would urge people who would not normally read these genres (like myself) to give it a try, because it really is a great read.
I will be posting an interview with the author in a few days, but in the meantime, find out more about him here.