on 18 October 2013
They say a rolling stone gathers no moss. Well, the Ethan Stone franchise certainly honours this old proverb because Tom Aston's sequel is leaner and meaner than its predecessor.
Aston understands the formula for a good thriller: a deliciously-complex plot, plenty of action, a quick pace, a host of ambiguous characters and twist upon twist.
What's more, unlike many thriller writers, Aston has a superb grasp of language. The dialogue is crisp and the sense of place is vivid. He describes characters and settings in short, sharp bursts of poetic language, for instance: "The showers of freezing rain drifted down under the street lights of the old suspension bridge like thin grey curtains gusting in and out of a broken window." This provides powerful imagery but doesn't overstay its welcome. The novel is a thriller, after all.
As a sequel, the expectation is for an increase in scope and Aston delivers on this front. The plot, arguably the defining tool of any thriller, is extremely intricate with numerous sub-plots occurring all over the world. This global element signifies another increase in scale. Whilst its predecessor, The Machine, was set predominantly in China, the sequel zips along at a dizzying pace between France, Canada, Switzerland, Afghanistan and New York. And the sequel delves a little deeper into Stone's back-story, touching upon his military exploits in Macedonia. Hopefully there will be more back-story in the next instalment.
Aston, like fellow thriller writer Jo Nesbo, is full of fresh ideas. Notable highlights include the explosive opening in which a suicide bomber charges through Strasbourg Christmas Market, a brutal wrestle between two women in a hotel room and an eye-watering interrogation scene involving a scalpel.
Finally, Aston should be commended on his research. His knowledge is vast, ranging from countries and weapons to languages and historical conflict. It is an impressive feature of his work and ensures his stories feel grounded in the real world.
Based on The Noble Lie, it is reasonably to expect Ethan Stone to have a literary career as long as Jack Reacher. And that's the truth.