“The Inquisitor” Mark Allen Smith (Simon and Schuster) – novel review

The Inquisitor by Mark Allen Smith book cover

Geiger is in the information retrieval business. His clients include international corporations, government agencies, organised crime and generally the job involves retrieving information from a suspect about stolen goods or people who cooperated with the suspect through various methods of torture, sometimes physical, invariably psychological. He has two business rules: firstly he will never work with or on children and secondly not with anyone with a history of coronary problems or at an age where the risk of coronary problems is heightened. Although he has no interest in whether his clients live or die, he has no interest in killing them. As Geiger later points out, in one case, he restrained and threatened violence to a suspect who gave up the whereabouts of a woman he’d abducted and tied up in preparation for murdering her.

Geiger is extraordinarily good at his job because he lacks any compassion for the suspects. In fact he lacks compassion for everyone, including himself.

His past is missing. He remembers waking up in his home city with no record of who he is and no memory of where he came from. He knows two things: a love of music and migraines for which he refuses to take painkillers and shuts himself in a darkened closet with his headphones when a migraine begins. He stole a name from a poster and started cash-in-hand work as a labourer and offered his services as an information retrieval specialist to an organised crime boss who accepted. Geiger’s only contact outside work is a therapist with whom he discusses his dreams, which suggest a severe childhood trauma. However, Geiger blocks all discussion of his life apart from the dreams so frustrating efforts to give them a context.

It’s only the dreams and memory loss that make Geiger interesting enough to keep a reader’s interest. Without them, he’d be a machine.

His business associate, Harry, in it to pay for his learning disabled sister’s care, usually checks out clients first and, after background checks, clients are obliged to hand over their suspect. One client, checked by Harry, delivers not the expected suspect but the suspect’s twelve-year-old son. Geiger appears to play along at first but his real concern is why he’s been tricked and how this client knew enough about how their business worked to know how to ensure the concocted story checked out. But Harry and Geiger soon realise they are merely pawns in a bigger game and thus expendable. Can they get the boy safely back to his mother when their opponents will not stop until they are dead?

“The Inquisitor” takes a while to get going. It’s only in the eighth chapter readers meet the suspect’s son, which is really where the story starts. The first seven chapters merely lay out how the information retrieval business works and establish Geiger’s ability to absorb pain, his unemotional, logical approach to everything and that that he has an unknown past: all of this should have been fed in as background detail.

The second problem is that the unknown past is revealed via dreams and hallucinations. Whilst this doesn’t stop the reader wanting to read and find out more about Geiger, it makes the discovery less satisfying: Geiger doesn’t uncover his past through his own actions and detective work.

The final third of the book feels hurried. The focus is rightly on Geiger and his pursuers, however, the back story regarding how the suspect got hold of the items of interest and their importance is hinted at and sketchily drawn, leaving the reader to do the work and piece together the bigger story. Whilst the bigger story isn’t important, it is a loose end that leads to an ambiguous ending, which is unnecessary as the ending leaves the story open to a sequel.

There are flaws then, but they are blemishes that can be wiped from the surface with a spot of polish, not deep gashes that threaten the structure of the novel.

The key characters, Geiger, Harry and the boy are compellingly drawn and strong enough to entice readers to keep turning the pages. Their pursuers are less well drawn, their motives reduced to following orders with ultimate loyalty only to themselves. The macho plot and main characters are balanced by empathetically drawn female characters: both Rita, a diner waitress and witness, and Lily, Harry’s disabled sister, are credible and three dimensional. I’d certainly read the next instalment in Geiger’s life.

By Emma Lee

Available from Simon & Schuster

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