Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Andrew Turpin introduced us to Joe Johnson, a war crimes investigator with a penchant for some of the most extravagant cases known to man, hunting in his last time out after a lost Nazi train full of gold.In his second adventure, titled The Old Bridge, Joe Johnson sets out to find some documents lost twenty years ago from the president’s office in Sarajevo for they contain some incriminating links to the White House. Needless to say, the chase after these papers turns bloody and troublesome as a bigger conspiracy looms above Johnson and more parties than he expected have a vested interest in it.
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Andrew Turpin Concocts Another Conspiracy
Times of war are some of the most complex in human history, often giving rise to countless plots and machinations, and that’s not taking into account all the ones which never make it into the history books. It creates a ripe stage for major crimes to thrive, the kind entire governments can be complicit in… and in some cases, judged afterwards.
There will always be more crimes to uncover from times of conflict, especially in modern times where we seem to have a strange penchant for recording every single thing… a habit which might spell doom for the United States government in Andrew Turpin‘s The Old Bridge.
Coming back from his first adventure chasing a lost Nazi train full of gold, war crimes investigator Joe Johnson has yet another case waiting for him. Some twenty years ago a dossier disappeared from the president’s office in Sarajevo, and Joe is tasked with retrieving it. Needless to say, the dossier isn’t just any simple piece of paper, but rather a very incriminating document with indisputable ties to the White House; if it was to see the light of day, the world would never be the same.
Johnson sets out on the trail of a Bosnian officer who disappeared with the dossier after a series of gruesome murders, only to find himself descending deeper and deeper into a lethal web of deceit. Alongside his ex-MI6 colleague, Jayne Robinson, they plough on forward to find the truth and unravel a long-standing conspiracy which involves CIA corruption, a political leader’s hidden agenda, covert arms deals and the old ruins of a bridge nearly five hundred years old.
Life and Fiction Merged
Espionage and mystery novels come in three essential varieties: over the top, extremely realistic and factual, or something in-between. When it comes to The Old Bridge, I am tempted to place it more on the extremely realistic side of the spectrum, but not all the way. There is no doubt Andrew Turpin took a lot of time to conduct historical and biographical research before writing this novel; many of the fates we witness befalling characters feel very precise and realistic, to the point where I would be really surprised if they weren’t based on anything real.
The way in which the events progress in also believable with very few, if any leaps in logic to speak of (at least nothing stood out to me). As we travel through Europe Turpin also sees fit to impart some bits and pieces of information on the history of the locations we visit, always limiting himself to small and carefully-selected tidbits which connect to the story in some fashion. In my opinion, this is probably the best approach to including historical information in a fictional book, and the author definitely deserves a commendation for it.
On the other hand though, the overall scope of the plot and conspiracy which gets unravelled feels a bit over the top in a certain way. While I am certain human history has seen such schemes and even worse, there are so many concurrent elements at play I essentially felt reminded at times I was reading a novel rather than a historical dissertation on espionage.
Personally, I found it made for a very welcome contrast to the somber nature of the rest of the book, turning what could have been a long and depressing slog into a captivating and exciting globetrotting adventure. Turpin never gets too crazy with any of his ideas, and even the most outlandish of events he writes down can in theory be explained away as coincidences.
A Mirror of Reality
Though as I mentioned there are some slightly over the top elements to The Old Bridge, on the whole I would venture to say it aims to create a mirror of the real world and some very real issues we are facing in our times. For starters, our protagonist Joe Johnson is far from being the perfect, all-knowing superhero special agent we’ve become accustomed to in the thriller genre. His capabilities are perhaps above-average, but we get the feeling they have been developed over an arduous lifetime and not gifted from birth.
As with most heroes nowadays, he also has his fair share of character flaws, but contrary to most other books, they really feel natural and not as if they were forced in as an afterthought… he’s really the sort of person you could meet in the real world.
In addition, the places where the plot takes us often feel as if they echo problematic bits of our reality a fair bit. Without spoiling anything, I found the stories of various side characters we witness along in our adventure to be quite powerful, bringing out feelings of true helplessness at how life sometimes chooses to work.
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The ending was also a memorable moment, and while I don’t want to give anything away, I will say it doesn’t obey the traditional rules of the genre and pushes us to reflect on the entirety of what we have read. Some of the more current topics we are encouraged to reflect on include arms trading, immigration, the refugee crisis and the state of modern U.S. politics in a more general sense.
The Final Verdict
The Old Bridge by Andrew Turpin is an excellent continuation to the Joe Johnson series, mixing realism, entertainment and meditations on our real world in one neatly-wrapped package. If you are a fan of mystery espionage books which lead to far-reaching conspiracies, then I strongly urge you to have a look at both this book and the first one in the series.
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.