First off, I looked at this guy's name and said, that has
to be a pen name. I mean, come on - "Thomas Blackthorne"? Conjures up images of some suave, highly competent, rugged individualist, doesn't it? (I was right, BTW.)
For those reviewers who complain that the cover led them to believe the book was going to be something else entirely, I can only say I hope they weren't really anticipating that the whole story was going to be about the knife-fighting competition that features here, and which is alluded to on the cover. I can't imagine being disappointed about insufficient gore.
The basic story: Josh Cumberland is ex-military, from a seriously undercover/black ops unit that practices all sorts of mayhem, both physical and electronic, mostly in other countries, and has access to some really cool gadgets and sneaky software. He still works closely with some of his former teammates, albeit in the world of corporate training, and knows he can call on them if he needs assistance/backup of either the technological or physical sort. Through those contacts, he is hired by a wealthy businessman to locate his missing teenaged son, Richard, who has run away after his first session with a therapist who practices something that seems to meld hypnosis and neuro-linguistic programming. (The author's postscript notes that the techniques described are genuine, although he has omitted some of the details - presumably to avoid having people actually try them themselves.)
The therapist is female, beautiful, and has an instant connection with Josh (of course.) The teenager's dad is convinced that something she did caused his son to bolt, and with the threat of losing her license hanging over her, she joins Josh in his hunt for Richie, getting quite the education on sneaky business in the process, and likewise blowing his mind with her "voodoo" techniques.
All of this is set in the not-too-distant future, in the UK, where the newest version of bread & circuses is a reality TV show called Knife Fight, which pits two teams against each other in a sort of gladiatorial battle involving knives (sometimes, but not always, to the death.) While personal possession of guns is still taboo, knives in this future society have been elevated to a sort of symbol of legitimacy, with every adult citizen expected to carry one on their person, and challenges are issued routinely for the most minor of offending behaviors. Makes for some interesting moments in traffic, in bars, etc.
The most interesting part of the book, to me, was the future tech/trends he describes: for instance, gekrunners, who perform death-defying physical feats a la
parkour, except with the enhancement of equipment that allows the wearer to duplicate the ability of gekkos to cling to virtually any surface. Clothing incorporates light-emitting features that can display animated advertising, slogans, or any image that can be programmed into it. Smart phones are still in evidence, although they now also serve the state as part of its anti-terrorism efforts: every phone and its owner's identifying details are registered and can be tracked at a moment's notice through the massive data network. All of that connectivity also means that saying the wrong thing over the phone can mean a knock at your door and some hard questions from the police; but an over-reliance on technological solutions can leave lots of blind spots to be exploited by someone with better tech, i.e., Josh Cumberland. And he does, as he discovers that the phobias that sent Richie to therapy in the first place, and led to his running away, connect to some of the most powerful people in the country, and they definitely don't have Richie's best interests at heart.
"Blackthorne" (AKA John Meaney) has published a sequel, but I don't really feel compelled to find a copy.