Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Andrew Turpin never runs short of adventures for his beloved ex-CIA war crimes investigator Joe Johnson, and in Bandit Country the action takes us to Northern Ireland. Social and political tensions are skyrocketing as a mysterious sniper leaves a bloody trail of high-profile victims, leading to a series of top secret documents from some thirty years ago, with information never meant to see the light of day. With terrorists to his left and assassins to his right, Joe Johnson is once again in his natural element, ready to find the key to unlock the motivation behind the assassinations.
Table of contents
Andrew Turpin and the Politics of Terrorism
The word terrorism is on everyone’s lips these days, whether it’s regular people discussing whatever latest attack might have happened around the world or experts still attempting to give the term a concrete definition. As of now, it’s a complex and relatively vague concept, but it’s safe to say it holds a grasp over our minds; even if we do not fear it, we still think about it and try to understand it.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise a large number of modern fiction revolves around this theme, and while in our world nothing good ever comes of it, in the realms of literature we are not bound by the constraints of reality. Truth is, it can make for quite an interesting story, case in point, Andrew Turpin‘s Bandit Country, the third book in the Joe Johnson series.
We are once again introduced to our ex-CIA war crimes investigator as a new, more pressing case than usual calls for his expertise. In Northern Ireland, a number of high-profile people have fallen victim to a mysterious sniper with an unknown agenda, creating some very real tensions with the U.S. President’s imminent visit to the country… and this is without even talking about the IRA with some deadly plans of their own.
Called to Belfast by a man who fears for his business due to the continued shootings, Johnson quickly intuits there is more at play here than meets the eye and with the help of his ex-MI-6 colleague, Jayne Robinson, they uncover the existence of some thirty-year-old files which just might be the key to assembling this whole puzzle.
Needless to say, these documents have stayed in secret this long for a very good reason, and some people would be devastated if they ever saw the light of day… but of course, this has never deterred Johnson from doing what is right, no matter the cost to himself.
A Worthy Adversary
For those who are unfamiliar with the Joe Johnson series, it follows a certain overarching premise for its plots, in the sense of Joe always going after war criminals who escaped punishment decades ago and are protected by incredibly wealthy and powerful people.
This time things are no different, and he faces a very capable who may even outmatch him in many aspects… and this is part of the reason I really enjoy this novel series. Johnson is far from being some sort of infallible hero type, but on the contrary, he makes mistakes… fairly often. On numerous occasions people even die because of his missteps or misjudgements, and this gives the story some very palpable stakes which carry on from start to finish.
While I will admit there are times when these moments make Johnson look somewhat incompetent, I am quite open to the idea of a hero who is legitimately flawed as a human being can be. In turn, this brings us to a trend I have come to notice in this novel series revolving around the female characters. Turpin has a very good understanding of what we want to see from characters in this type of novel and has a tendency of making them rational, intelligent, effective and necessary for Joe to succeed in his goals.
On more than one occasion they swoop in to save him, and the best part is they are devoid of all irritating quirks and cliches most female characters seem to be outfitted with these days. In Bandit Country we basically see more of the same on this front, and I found Jayne complemented Joe’s character quite well, both making up for what the other one lacks.
A Slow Thriller
While I suppose it would be fair to classify Bandit Country as a thriller while referring to the classical definition of the genre, I would argue it largely runs contrary to what we have become accustomed to. Rather than blazing through the plot at a breakneck speed, the novel takes its time in developing the story and the characters, moving along at a slow and methodical pace for a large part of it.
Turpin also does his best to keep the story grounded in its content, which in turn makes it feel much more believable. While I can see some readers getting bored with this more deliberate approach, to me it felt very much like a breath of fresh air in a genre which can desperately use one. It takes a special kind of talent to slowly immerse the reader into a complicated and realistic story, but Turpin ultimately manages with flying colours, at least this was the case for me.
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With the story being more grounded and believable, we unavoidably end up touching on some real-world subjects, this time mainly revolving around politics and terrorism. In addition to giving us some history lessons about Ireland, Turpin also tries to shift the spotlight on US-based illegal operations dedicated to financing and arming terrorist forces, and the overall role governments play in the rise of these extremist factions. It’s definitely a sensitive topic, but I am very glad the author chose to dive into it and give us as much information as possible, hoping we will come to our own conclusions and perhaps even take some sort of action.
The Final Verdict
Bandit Country by Andrew Turpin is a great new entry in the Joe Johnson series, presenting a methodical and engrossing thriller with an extremely grounded approach and ambitions of realism. If you are looking for a thriller revolving around politics and terrorism which is a bit different from the norm in its whole approach to the story, then I strongly recommend you give this novel a shot; at the very least, if nothing else, you will be entertained for a few hours.
Andrew Turpin is a former journalist-turned-author from the U.K. who also studied at Loughborough University which netted him many additional years of experience as a corporate and financial communications adviser.
He has reconciled his love for good thrillers with his unique interest in unsolved war crimes by writing some highly-acclaimed novels, including The Last Nazi, The Old Bridge and Bandit Country.