Title: The Best Laid Plans
Author: Russell Govan
Undercover police officer Josh Gray, a former soldier, rescues a young woman, Amelia Harris, from assault by two men late at night. Days later Harris reappears as an old friend of a member of the terrorist cell that Gray has infiltrated. Will she blow his cover? Her re-emergence is a further unwelcome complication in a fraught operation to investigate a terrorist group bent on detonating multiple explosive devices in densely packed public spaces. Gray's instincts suggest that the threat might involve more than just the lone cell - headed by Ryan Watson, a charismatic ideologue whose frustration with conventional politics has driven him to embrace extremism. The threat to national security grows, at the same time that Gray feels increasingly isolated in the operation. When a practice attack by the cell against a soft target succeeds in causing significant damage, albeit at the cost of one of the terrorists lives, Gray realises that the quality of equipment provided means the cell is incredibly well funded, and that Watson’s disregard for human life extends to members of his own team. As the operation reaches its climax, a sudden terrifying twist sees Gray involved in a race to neutralise a new threat, as Watson embarks on an unexpected mission to strike at the very heart of the British establishment.
I turn towards the woman, who is standing with her back and arms pressed hard against the brick wall on the other side of the alley. Her head is turned sideways, looking right at me, eyes frozen wide. I step towards her and she mouths something that I can’t make out. I lean in closer and she whimpers, “Please, don’t hurt me.”
Although I’m pumped, I’ve got sufficient wits about me to remember the pretence of being Scottish, and to recognise that she is seriously traumatised. “Don’t worry, hen. You’re safe. That pair are unconscious and are not going to hurt you. Are you all right?”
She nods. I think she trusts me. She surprises me by speaking again. “Who are you?”
“My name’s Jamie Mackie,” I lie easily. “Do you have a phone?”
She casts around, looking for something and points at a handbag on the far side of the toppled wheelie bin. I vault over and retrieve the bag. The torrential rain has damped the stink from the spilled contents of the bin and I tiptoe through the debris past the prostrate knife-man, before handing her the bag. She takes it in two tight fists and clutches it firmly against her chest, head bowed. Several seconds take a decade to pass while she remains stock still and silent.
“Is your phone in your bag?”
She looks up at me. She’s got huge eyes and I think that she might be on something. Her cheeks are streaked with mascara. She doesn’t speak.
“What’s your name, hen?”
More years pass and I’m about to repeat the question when she saves me the trouble, “Amelia.”
“Amelia, is your phone in the bag?”
She doesn’t answer, but opens the bag, dips her right hand inside and brings out the very latest top-of-the-range Samsung model. She offers it to me and I see that she’s wearing a ring on her middle finger that matches her expensive-looking earrings.
“No, Amelia. I don’t want your phone. I need you to make a phone call to the police.”
She extends her hand towards me, still proffering the phone. I take a step backwards. Amelia tries to close the gap by taking a pace forwards, but the heel of her left shoe has broken off and she stumbles. I prevent her fall by catching her and immediately feel her go rigid. Her mouth is clamped tight and she is breathing hard through her nose, but she doesn’t drop the bag or phone. I manoeuvre her as gently as I can so that her back is against the wall again, and then I take a step away. Her eyes are locked on mine and, despite her vulnerability, there’s a ferocity there that I didn’t expect.
“Amelia, I need you to telephone the police. Do you understand?”
“Good. You have to dial 999 and ask for the police.” I’m speaking slowly and pause now. It’s important to allow her time to process. “Then you need to tell them that you have been attacked and that the attackers are still present. You need to tell them that you are…” I look backwards and up to read the sign. “Tell them that you are in Baker’s Passage, off the Tansey Road. Can you do that?”
Another nod. She’s still looking at me. “Jamie?”
“Aye, what is it?”
“Will you stay? Stay until the police come?”
“I cannae do that. I’m sorry, but I have to go now. Will you phone the police?”
I go over to the two unconscious bodies and give each a powerful kick to the ribs. The complete lack of response confirms that they are both totally sparko, and no threat to Amelia. She’s still looking right at me and I nod pointedly towards her phone, then I head back out on to Tansey Road. I pause just around the corner to hear Amelia say the word “Police”, so that I know she’s making the call, and then I’m running back in the direction I originally came from.
I take the next narrow alleyway on the right, parallel to Baker’s Passage, and sprint-weave between the bins and puddles. This route is going to take me more than a mile out of my way, but I know that it avoids the CCTV cameras at Dixon’s Cross and the traffic cams along Hoxley Drive. I can hear the sirens that confirm Amelia’s call is being answered already. I’m trying to think if I’ve left any traces. I never touched her phone, so no fingerprints. Same for the wheelie bins. Unlikely that Forensics would find anything linking me to the scene, especially with all this rain. Except the handbag – shit! I’m trying to remember how I held it – I don’t think I’ll have left any prints. What about before that? The junction of Howard Street and Tansey Road, there’s a camera there. Shit! It’s less than half a kilometre from the scene, so it’ll get checked. If Moll sees it, she’ll clock that it’s me straight off. Shit, shit, shit! I’ll either have to brazen it out or just completely deny it. I can decide nearer the time.
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Comments from reviewers include the following:
“The storyline is really fast moving, with plenty going on in each chapter.”
“A good crime thriller that you can get your teeth into and not put down! A very readable novel with some unexpected twists and turns. It would make a good film!”
“A pacey, high action thriller with some nice plot twists and credible characters.”
“You can't get enough of Josh Gray and how he has to work his way from trying to take down a terrorist group to dealing with his life in general. A wonderfully written suspense thriller!”
“The plot demands attention to detail and fortunately for the reader, this is a book which has it in spades. Carefully researched, nicely paced and unpredictable - everything a thriller should be.”
“Josh Gray has a good back story to underpin his capabilities and his outlook on life, like a British version of Jack Reacher.”
“The story moves along at a good pace and there were enough twists and turns to keep me guessing right to the end.”
“Humorous turns of phrase and the wry observations.”
“I enjoyed the mix of characters and the police investigative elements to the storyline.”
“Was gripped throughout the book by numerous twists and turns and found the characters believable yet complex.”
“The story line keeps you gripped and it's easy to get involved with the characters. There are surprising twists and turns and you are kept in suspense until the end.”
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Russell Govan began attending writing classes in 2015 at Oxford University Department for Continuing Education. Encouraged by his tutor, he worked on a class project that eventually evolved into his first novel, Bank on Nothing, published by Sharpe Books in 2020. The deal with Sharpe Books required a second novel in the same genre, which led to the publication of The Best Laid Plans in 2021.
Between production of his two thrillers, Govan produced a time-slip romance titled I Know You. An extract from I Know You was shortlisted for the Grindstone 2019 International Short Story Prize. I Know You is due to be published by Guernica World Editions in 2022.
Govan is married and lives in Oxford.
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