Girl On Fire by Tony Parsons
When terrorists use a drone to bring down a plane on one of London’s busiest shopping centres, it ignites a chain of events that will draw in the innocent and guilty alike.
DC Max Wolfe finds himself caught in the crossfire in a city that seems increasingly dangerous and hostile.
But does the danger come from the murderous criminals that Max is tracking down? Or the people he’s trying to protect?
Or does the real threat to Max lie closer to home?
Girl On Fire is the fifth novel in the DC Max Wolfe series. The novels always surround a contemporary moral issue that is currently faced in today’s society. The theme for this particular novel is the rise of extremism, terrorism and the social/political response to such events. The novels have a real sense of authenticity with regards to the Met police locations and accuracy of terms used. The author has done amazing in-depth research and that adds to the realism of the novel.
‘I woke up and the world was gone’
The novel opens with Wolfe at Lake Meadow shopping centre, in West London. As a helicopter is struck by a drone and the body of the aircraft falls upon the centre, causing mass confusion, panic and ultimately death. Wolfe is amongst the flames and fear and sees first-hand the destruction and carnage left behind by a random act of terrorism.
The novel then flashes forward seven days, as armed police officers get ready to raid the suspected terrorist’s premises. Operation Tolstoy aims to apprehend the criminals and gather the evidence needed to ensure that justice is done.
The suspects Asad and Adnan Khan, live with their parents Ahmed (known as Arnold), mother Azza and 16yr old niece Layla. The raid does not go as planned and the Met police have a dead officer and two dead suspects on their hands. Not to mention the media backlash and extra attention to the high profile case. Did the parents know? How do you raise criminals with such deep beliefs and remain unaware? The Focus of the investigation, now shifts to the parents of the dead suspects.
The parents are taken to (CTC) Counter terrorism command at Paddington Green station, where they’ll be questioned thoroughly. The police officers debate their approach and it seems that Wolfe is convinced of the father’s innocence, for now!
Ahmed Khan is devastated, he continues to claim he didn’t know. He tells Wolfe of his other son who died fighting. His struggle through racism and path to acceptance in 1970s Britain. He also informs the police of the recent moral outrage of his sons, against the country that is their home.
‘We destroy their buildings, but they destroy our countries’
The case is extremely complex, with the individual’s personal beliefs called into question. The topic of radicalisation is often the cause of many heated media debates. It is a controversial point via all media outlets, with no one in-particular having any clear concise answers. The situation has been deeply affected by cuts to financial reserves and manpower as referenced in the novel’s case.
Over the course of the novel, the author does break down various viewpoints. It is all set surrounding the case and I didn’t feel that there was any personal agenda. I thought the author had done a fantastic job of ensuring that various opinions were played out within the narrative. The voices of the various police officer’s guide you through the subject, legal constraints and case at hand.
Wolfe is assisted by trainee DC Joy Adams and childhood friend & fellow copper Jackson Rose. As they try to piece the case together. Wolfe was present at the shooting of Adnan by armed police officer Ray Vann and there is some confusion at what took place and how. Is Wolfe willing to inform on Vann? What will this mean for Vann’s future? Rose and Vann both have military backgrounds, and this perhaps gives them a broader understanding of the issue of radicalisation.
‘You know what we fought for in Afghanistan? It wasn’t freedom. It wasn’t democracy. It wasn’t queen and country. It was each other. And it’s the same here. We fight for each other’
Whilst the death toll continues to rise from the initial assessment of 44 dead. The public become more and more outraged at the heartbreak and loss of lives. The police officers find the (IPCC) independent police complaints commission, breathing down their necks about the possible illegal shooting of a suspect. The case becomes more and more layered, as the plot unfolds. Wolfe has to decide between telling the truth and loyalty to a fellow professional.
‘I’m not going to rat him out, but I’m not going to lie for him’ – Wolfe
The mindset of a serving soldier or veteran of the military, is one that is often difficult to get across on the page. The loyalty and brotherhood amongst soldiers is second to none. I personally, have never found soldiers to be ignorant, uneducated or overly macho. I have however, known many soldiers shaped and moulded by their experiences in overseas deployments. My husband was in the military for 14yrs and has served in Afghan. I think what the author has conveyed, is the point that civilians and on this occasion, Wolfe are often detached from the military experience. The characters of Rose and Vann offer up an alternative narrative, one too often forgotten in modern society.
Aside from the aftermath of the terrorist incident and professional fallout. Wolfe has problems close to home. Trying to raise his young daughter Scout, as a single father is a huge part of Wolfe’s psychology and what drives him as a person and a copper. But with his ex-wife Anne attempting to insinuate herself in Scout’s life and threats of going for custody. Wolfe is feeling the pressure. The theme of divorce and its impact upon the children it affects, is quite refreshing to read. Maybe I am biased as I was raised by my father. But I found the storyline very interesting and thought-provoking.
‘Only divorced adults get new lives, I thought. Divorced children are stuck with their old lives – and with their dumb-ass divorced parents forever’
Outside the Khan’s residence, a preacher holds court. A preacher with a knowledge of history and opinions he believes need to be heard. George Halfpenny is the addition of a character not afraid to speak his mind. Offering up a narrative of the honest, tolerant patriot. It may not be an opinion you agree with, but it is an honest reflection of a voice that surrounds every real-life terror situation.
‘Every murder is a hate crime’ Max Wolfe
Between the various voices within the novel, whether it be 16yr old Layla trying to understand a society that now appears to despise her. The voice of the police officers trying to solve the case and understand the logic behind the Khan brother’s radicalisation. The emotional response of Ahmed Khan at facing up to the shame his sons have brought to the family. The families left behind by the murdered police officers, just young little kids that may never remember their own mother.
This novel fully explores the social and cultural cost to society in the face of the rise in terrorism. An intelligent, well planned and hugely relevant novel.