Sampler: A Crown of Thorns by Duncan Swindells

Review: The narrative development of the characters mixed in with current affairs in the world brings a cunning blend of reality and fiction, with many cutting and astute observations on society and its corruptive forces.

Scott Hunter’s in a race to find the truth.
But, with wealthy Russian mobsters threatening to overrun London, Hunter’s investigations force him to consider the very people he’s working for and a murder

The Service appears eager to cover up.

Duncan Swindells

Sampler: A Crown of Thorns

Tuesday, 31st March 2015 

Marcus Bayer was not rash by nature. He was an intellectual, he liked to think, a patient considerer of the facts who only ever acted once each and every angle had been scrupulously examined and chewed over. Consequently, he was certain he’d never behaved quite so impulsively in all his twenty-five long years.

The quietly self-deprecating Tom Fratton sat sleeping, a pair of binoculars draped around his neck, their bulky mass resting awkwardly on an embryonic drinker’s paunch. Bayer regarded him nervously. It was possible Fratton might not wake in the time it would take him. It was possible he would never know. He tiptoed across the tiny flat, away from the window and Fratton’s supine figure. On the counter which separated the kitchen from their cramped living quarters, Bayer found a set of car keys. There was just something about the man in the house opposite which had convinced him he should act. It wasn’t uncommon, from their vantage point high above, to see him leave his house in the dead of night, not uncommon at all. But, as a rule, when the man did take a drive in the middle of the night, he would step purposefully from his beautifully appointed pre-revolution town house, not bothering with his hat, open the car door readily, ease himself in and drive off. After all, even in March Moscow could be fiercely cold. But this morning, at ten past two, Bayer had diligently recorded the time, the man in the house opposite had stepped onto his driveway, pulled his black fedora down over his brow, carefully found a Parliament, and smoked it easily. If Marcus Bayer hadn’t known, with the certainty of a professional snooper, that they could not possibly be seen in their hideaway across the street, he would have sworn that the man standing in the broad-brimmed hat, smoking so calmly, had fixed him through the lens of his binoculars. A long, lingering, open stare. He was appealing to Marcus Bayer. A very personal request to join him, Bayer was certain of it. He was allowing him enough time to collect his thoughts, together with his car keys, and make the decision that had to be made. And what else was Bayer to do? Perhaps there was another team who would follow? Perhaps he was breaking with all his training, but how often did the Deputy Director of the FSB extend such an obvious and personal invitation?

He looked at Fratton. There wasn’t any point in leaving a note. What would he write? If he were lucky and whatever the Deputy Director had to say didn’t take too long, there was always the chance he would be back before Fratton awoke. If he were unlucky, a note wasn’t going to make the slightest scrap of difference. He would probably be fired, with or without Fratton’s support. Bayer found a blanket and draped it carefully over his sleeping colleague whilst silently praying to the distantly forsaken Lord above that he didn’t wake him in the process.

Bayer had been about to leave the apartment when he’d seen Fratton’s gun. He disliked guns, always had done. He was a junior analyst, specialising in Russian politics and almost by definition, corruption. He had no use for guns and so subsequently, following his somewhat tortuous return to London and a debriefing which had lasted days and in which he’d been called upon to explain his actions almost hourly, Bayer had struggled to explain exactly why he’d taken the weapon. Perhaps it was, he’d insisted rather desperately to the three men in their brown brogues and matching ivory turn ups, that it had simply felt like the right thing to do under the circumstances. The sort of thing Fratton would have done.

With the Browning tucked in his heavy jacket pocket, Marcus Bayer left the apartment and climbed into the clapped-out yellow Mitsubishi The Service had so reluctantly supplied. In the distance, sat at a green traffic light, a set of twinkling red brake lights. He’d been right. The man in the Mercedes with the fedora hat and expensive taste in cigarettes was waiting for him. Buoyed up by nothing more than the reaching of a decision, he crunched the car into gear and pulled out.

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