Review: Wicked Game by Matt Johnson (@Matt_Johnson_UK; @OrendaBooks)

wgThe Official Book Blurb

2001. Age is catching up with Robert Finlay, a police officer on the Royalty Protection team based in London. He’s looking forward to returning to uniform policing and a less stressful life with his new family. But fate has other plans.

A policeman is killed by a bomb blast, and a second is gunned down in his own driveway. Both of the murdered men were former Army colleagues from Finlay’s SAS regiment, and a series of explosive events makes it clear that he is not the ordinary man that his colleagues and new family think he is.

And so begins a game of cat and mouse in which Finlay is forced to test his long-buried skills in a fight against a determined, unidentified enemy.

Now, I have always loved me a good thriller, a bit of the cat and mouse chase and perhaps a touch of espionage or covert mission/secret service action style plotting. I used to read loads as a teenager, with a particularly soft spot for Tom Clancy novels and good old Jack Ryan. I also loved me a good police procedural. Now I can find plenty of the latter which really float my boat reading wise and I have been a very happy reader of late. I also found Rachel Amphlett’s Dan Taylor series which has more than satisfied my craving for the the old action and intrigue. (Coincidentally you can catch a brilliant interview between Rachel and Matt over at Rachel’s blog page here.) Imagine my absolute joy when I started reading (or more acurately listening to) Wicked Game and got a little bit of everything; policemen, terrorism covert operations and absolute edge of the seat action. One very happy camper right here, I can tell you.

So. This book really opens with a bang. Not quite literally, although there is an explosion in the first few pages which really sets up the expectation for the rest of the book. I kind of thought maybe the pair we first meet were important. That these were characters we were going to follow. And we did. For a few yards out of the confines of the airport before they were toast. Now I know this sounds awful but that surprise factor really did make me smile. It soon became clear just who was really going to be key to this whole story, but not yet why. And as Matt Johnson introduces us to the novel’s central protagonist, Robert Finlay, you start to get a real flavour of what this book is about.

The book is written from two perspectives. The first is the omniscient narrator, with whom we take the journey of all of the secondary characters in the book. The other character, written in first person, is Finlay. Now we spend a lot of time with Finlay as he navigates his changes in job from Royal Protection to Inspector at Stoke Newington Police Station, and also as he sets the scene for some of the key events which shape the present day.

We travel back in time with Finlay to a period in the history of Northern Ireland when terrorism was still rife and Finlay was serving in the SAS. The story also takes us to the Iranian Embassy siege and references the death in service of WPC Yvonne Fletcher, all highly emotive events, and amongst those which shaped the authors own life. It is this understanding, this authenticity, which rings through the narrative with such emotional clarity that you do not need graphic detail to understand the impacts of these events upon the people who experienced them. The story moves seamlessly between past and present, but it is in the present day that we see the most action, and the biggest impact upon Finlay.

Now I won’t go too far into plot as this book deserves to be read for itself to be fully appreciated. Finlay is a complex character, one shaped by his past but focused on his future, one which now includes extra responsibilities; a wife and daughter. As he and his police colleagues start to be targeted and killed in terrorist style attacks, you are left wondering which, if any, of the events above could be at the root of the deaths. There is no warning, no mercy, and the killers appear to be unperturbed by collateral damage, particularly among serving officers, as long as their targets are hit. I could understand and appreciate Finlay’s reluctance to get drawn into the search for the killers, his need to protect his family, especially as they had no idea of the full extent of his past in the Armed Forces. But there was also an inevitability about his involvement. It was more a matter of how long he could hold out for.

In spite of all his training, Finlay isn’t your typical action hero. A former Officer, he does not appear to have the deadly compulsion or conviction of his colleagues and with this softer edge, and at 48 years old his now softer physical edges, isn’t quite as ready for the action as he may have been in his younger years. But this only serves to make him even more appealing, to make me root for him even more. It is his intellect, planning and core training as much as his physical strength which will be needed in this particular battle. There is a cheeky quality to him, one which is really brought to the fore in his interactions with his wife, and the tender moments with his daughter are beautifully written. This is a guy who has been damaged by his past, who suffers from crippling nightmares, and yet he has it all to fight for and you know damned well he will.

The tension in this book was palpable. The energy with which the action hit was like a fist in the gut at times. I really must stop listening to thrillers like this while I’m driving as I’m certain one day I’m either going to get a speeding ticket when my heart and mind try to keep up with the pace, or end up like ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ as I slow to concentrate on what I am listening to. There were some chucklesome moments when the descriptions used brought a genuine smile to my face, but also those moments when I wanted to channel out all that was going on around me to focus only on the story. Not ideal when in heavy traffic on the M6. Oops

There are so many elements of misdirection in this book, false leads which take you up the garden path and back again, that anything you think you know will most likely be wrong. In a story built around secrets, where people are skilled in the art of lying and evasion, can you really trust anything or anyone? Probably not. But you will still care. Very much so. About Finlay. About his family. About his colleague Jones. You will want them to come good. You will want them to win. That is the emotion you will feel with the way in which this book is written. A wonderful blend of action and emotion; a plot which is as gripping and measured as it is explosive. I needed to know how it would end and I now need to read book two.

Bring it on.

An explosive and emotive 5 stars from me.


Wicked Game is published by Orenda Books and is available to purchase now at the following links.

Amazon UK

The second book in the Robert Finlay series, Deadly Game, is available in e-book format and released in paperback on 15th March. The blog tour starts next week and here is the official book blurb, to get you in the mood.

dgReeling from the attempts on his life and that of his family, Police Inspector Robert Finlay returns to work to discover that any hope of a peaceful existence has been dashed.

Assigned to investigate the Eastern European sex-slave industry just as a key witness is murdered. Finlay, along with his new partner Nina Brasov, finds himself facing a ruthless criminal gang, determined to keep control of the traffic of people into the UK. On the home front, Finlay’s efforts to protect his wife and child may have been in vain, as an MI5 protection officer uncovers a covert secret service operation that threatens them all…

Picking up where the bestselling Wicked Game left off, Deadly Game sees Matt Johnson’s damaged hero fighting on two fronts. Aided by new allies, he must not only protect his family but save a colleague from an unseen enemy … and a shocking fate.


6 thoughts on “Review: Wicked Game by Matt Johnson (@Matt_Johnson_UK; @OrendaBooks)

  1. You are making me even happier to have it in my TBR! 😀 I’ve decided to wait a bit because it’s a longer read and I need more content before I can devote enough time to a bigger book without having to run for Internet session for work!
    I like action thrillers only when they have something special and I picked this one because I thought it had, and you just confirmed! Awesome review, I can’t wait to meet Finlay!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah it’s great Donna, you won’t regret it. My sister and I were on the audiobook on the way back from Edinburgh last week and she’s so mad at me because I dropped her off before the end 😂. She’s buying the book now as she needs to know how it finished lol.


  2. Wonderful review Jen! I’m on the blog tour for Deadly Game and I really want to squeeze this one in first…I started it and then put it down because I have to get to a couple others first but you’re right, that first scene with the explosion was so good! I thought for sure they would’ve been important characters…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Renee. I’m so glad I had the audio book. It was really welcomed on my long journeys as I have the same problem as you. Loads to read and no time to read everything I want. Loved this though. Such a twisty one.

      Liked by 1 person

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