on 7 March 2013
Some controversial events in history that have never been successfully resolved always tend to generate a substantial amount of speculation and the sinking of the Struma in the Black Sea in 1942 certainly qualifies. Who was involved, who gave the orders, who knew what and what deals may have been struck and so on remain unanswered questions. Having said that, however, this is a modern day story full of intrigue, mystery, mayhem and romance involving spies, goons, government officials, military trained combatants, pretty women and one smart and tough private investigator, Sam Dyke. I took to Sam right away when he saved the lovely Chantal, a French language translator from what initially seemed like a random attack but as the story unfolded I soon realized that there is nothing random in this story at all, indeed quite the contrary. I love how the author used the backdrop of two true historical events which were slowly uncovered as links to solving the present day mystery. Highly recommended.
(Author provided review copy)
on 30 April 2013
Keith Dixon's P.I. Sam Dyke is back.... This time the action takes us to Edinburgh, Manchester, Portsmouth and across the channel to a sleepy village in rural France. Sam makes for a thoughtful protagonist - he's the son of a Yorkshire miner who can riff on comparisons between the decline of industrial Britain and that of French agriculture, while getting himself and his client out of sticky situations.
Keith's nemesis in this book is not the hired assassin Connell Steele, but his paymaster, the ambitious and morally bankrupt politician Gideon Blake.
Where The Hard Swim excels is the way it takes us into the minds of the hard-men soldiers who saw and did much more than they should have on the front line in Iraq and Afghanistan. On their return to civvy street some of these washed-up souls end up driving taxis or, for those who really can't get rid of their residual anger, go into jobs such as 'oil security' or worse. Connell Steele is one such, rather deranged example. Steele, though is tiring of his day job as a mercenary. Like many a wage slave he's stuck in his job and even though he's very well paid to do his dirty work, he's hardly the type to chuck in the towel and take himself off to do a creative writing M.A.
The Hard Swim is deftly plotted and an engaging read, weaving together stories from the Second World War with those set in the present. The plotting is so well done that Dixon keeps the reader guessing. Every detail that is set-up earlier on in the novel has a pay-off later on in the story. Keith Dixon's prose is fluent and assured and he has that knack of making the writing look easy.... Although Chantal remains somewhat of an enigma, I think it was a wiser choice by the author to choose instead to delve into the mind of a complex psychopath, who is beginning to doubt himself.
On the strength of this, the third Sam Dyke book I'm keen to read the first two.
on 19 April 2013
An interesting combination of mystery, spying and detection revolving around a WW2 naval encounter which was unknown to me and yet enhanced by the treatment it gets in this narrative.
Again, on the plus side, we have the chivalry of Sam who saves Chantal and the slow but intriguing evolution of a mystery which stretches from the present back to 1942 and back to the present.
I also liked the sense of conspiracy and self-protection amongst those in higher places.
There is, however, a tendency in the narrative to do more telling than showing, so that we sometimes get whole pages of preamble which tend to intrude on the feeling of immediacy or plausibility. For me this, sometimes, made the story cumbersome and 'told' so that there was a sense of being contrived.
The dialogue is generally spontaneous and natural, even if it also seems a little contrived in places to serve the plot.
Overall, I was glad I had been introduced to the sinking of the Struma from an author who obviously enthuses about the intrigue that might have surrounded such an incident.
on 2 July 2013
(Possible Spoilers). First off, I am a confirmed Keith Dixon / Sam Dyke fan. I loved the first two tales, I loved the plots, and I loved the delivery; in these Mr Dixon manages the (Briticised) world-weary first person gumshoe musings exceptionally well. However, that has been abandoned here, and although still a very good tale which I enjoyed a lot, I feel I would have enjoyed it even more if this had been offered to us in first. I think I understand why this has happened though: perhaps the under-belly of other characters cannot be (independently) exposed so comprehensively in first - perhaps needing their own time and space possibly achieved through wholesale shifts in both narrative and dialogue towards them, which of course would mean the whole tale being written in third person, which is indeed the case here. However. . .
Overall, the tale is a good'un. A chance intervention by Sam - in the vicinity due to a bread and butter assignment - serving papers - sees an attack on a young lady outside an Edinburgh conference centre timely thwarted. Here is the first point where there may be some degree of spoilers, so, as they say on the footy results - look away now if this is likely to be a problem. But it wasn't just an everyday mugging or even a more serious sexual motive; the lady has on her person, what is deemed to be by some, sensitive written / printed matter from many years before, which, if it came to the public's attention, could possibly put a spanner in the works of the ambitions of a rising star of the establishment. The baddies are so well placed, protected and resourced, it was never going to be a shrug and 'Shucks - that's it, fellas, let's go for a burger and we might make it home in time for Match of the Day', far far from it. Soon, Sam's involvement is known, in fact full details of his identity and life - where he lives, his partner, his son and so on, are all soon on the desk of the main mover and shaker; but Sam has already sensed a remaining danger and takes the lady, a British-French lady but more British - Chantal Bressette, into his protection.
So, we start in Scotland, and then the plot and the action shifts - briefly - to the north-west, and then down to various points on the south coast, and finally, it all comes to a head, climax - denouement (whatever), somewhere in the middle of France.
There are also the existing strains of Sam's personal relationships on show, and these develop further - not section-hoggingly so, but enough; I think Mr D has done well on these parts as unobtrusive as they are, and, I feel, must be very true to life for those who lead both personal and professional lives similar to Sam Dyke. It's not just the doings of his job which is part of the problem, it's also partly due to his attitude to life. Whether his job makes him so, or whether his character is well-fitted for the job, who knows?
Once the readers of Sam's previous outings have got used to the change in writing style in this offering, then it can be read as a highly enjoyable romp. What really makes it so, is imperfection: Sam, Chantal as well as the head of the baddie outfit actually doing the job, all make errors, some big ones, some minor ones, resulting in the upper hand being held by each party at different points. Sam is basically a good bloke, but - he ain't the best of the best despite trying his best, and this shows throughout, and such realism aids the tale throughout.
There are some minuses to the tale, though, but not major ones. I'd have liked a bit more meat to the main reason the whole shooting match exists in the first place. I'd have liked Dan to figure at least a little more; I thought from the previous tales that we were heading for a very definite 'Dyke and Son' with a newly painted legend on the glass door of a second floor office in Plaistow or Bethnal Green or somewhere. (Ok, Sam's NW based, but you just can't beat these old stereotypes!)
I think if Mr D had managed his usual Raymond and kept this in first person, I don't think 5 stars would have been a problem, but for me, third person takes the shine off these type of tales (a tad) however well done, (hard boiled, preferably!), so 4 stars it is. But still a very good offering from Keith Dixon.
on 20 June 2016
‘The Hard Swim’ by Keith Dixon, the third book in the series featuring British Private Investigator Sam Dyke, outdoes its two predecessors with a riveting tale of political ambition, corruption and dirty secrets buried in the past. The two prior novels were notable, yet this one takes expectations up to a completely new level.
Dixon delivers depth to his characters, and not just the hapless protagonist drawn into the intrigue by being at the right place at the wrong time, but even to the secondary characters whose presence is essential to provide the sense of menace the author imbues so well throughout the tale. This story also stretches Dyke’s habitual stomping ground from the North of England to Scotland, the south coast of the UK and finally France for a climatic ending that does justice to a great storyline. As with the characters, author Dixon’s descriptions of the locations place you there alongside the protagonists as they endeavour to resolve the mystery that threatens their lives.
I only recently discovered Keith Dixon’s work and he is now a firm favourite. I strongly advise anyone who enjoys exceptional, gritty crime thrillers to read his novels. In a word, ‘The Hard Swim’ is outstanding.