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The Best Laid Plans by @RussellGovan is a KU Event pick #thriller #mustread #ku #giveaway
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.
The scream dies almost immediately, barely lasting a couple of heartbeats. But it’s enough to pull me up short. The hairs on the back of my neck are at attention, like squaddies on parade.
I’m aware of the adrenaline rush as my brain switches up several gears. Definitely a female scream. The sudden suffocation of the sound – definitely the intervention of a second party. Definitely someone in danger – my experience and instincts combine to confirm these certainties in a nanosecond. The damping effect of the torrential rain and the surrounding tall buildings suggest it came from a distance maybe just a couple of hundred metres ahead in the same northerly direction as I’m facing. Probably from one of the alleyways on the opposite side of the road.
My instructions are clear and absolute. Keep your head down. Focus on your mission to the exclusion of all else. Do not get involved in anything that you do not have to. But those instructions contradict most of my basic training and all of my core instincts, and I’m already running at full tilt. My PB for 100M is 11.1 and, despite the conditions and my six-foot three frame being drenched through, I reckon I’m moving at pretty close to that rate. I stay on the balls of my feet and take care to avoid splashing any puddles so that I don’t alert anyone to my approach.
After twenty seconds I hear the sounds of a struggle and an indistinct male voice coming from an opening just ten metres ahead to my left. I slow down, then stop and peer around the corner to recce the situation. The alley is no more than two metres wide and unlit, but there’s sufficient illumination from the streetlight behind me for me to see all I need.
Just twenty metres into the passageway three figures are clearly identifiable. A young woman is being pressed against a large wheelie bin by a tall, powerfully-built male. He’s got his left hand across her mouth, with his right arm across her chest, pushing her backwards. There’s a flash of reflected light from where his right hand should be which means he’s holding a blade. Another male, shorter – maybe five-eight – is bent forward, hitching the woman’s skirt up with one hand and roughly tugging at her knickers with the other. The woman is trying to kick out with both legs, although there’s a weariness to her resistance like you see on wildlife documentaries when mortally wounded prey continues to struggle instinctively, but feebly.
I step forward into the alley. My faint shadow is sufficient to alert all three to my presence and each of them turn with squinted eyes to try to pick details from my silhouette. The shorter of the two men rather ridiculously removes his hand from the woman’s knickers and smooths her skirt downwards. He addresses me, “On yer way, mate. Nothing to see here.” His voice is reedy and nasal, cutting through the sound of the rain splattering the tarmacked ground.
I’ve got surprise on my side and I have control. I look right past him and talk directly to the woman. I affect a broad Glaswegian accent, “Are you okay, hen?”
“Didn’t you hear me, mate? I said there’s nothing to see here. On yer way!” He’s calling me his mate, but there’s nothing friendly about his demeanour. A quick glance back over his shoulder confirms that his partner has released the woman and stepped behind him, his right hand gripping the knife. It’s either a MAC 695 or 700 military survival knife, with an 18cm blade – a serious bit of kit. Emboldened, the short-arse takes a pace forward.
I look past the pair of them. “I said, are you all right, hen?” She tilts her head so that she is looking in my direction. She mouths something, but no words come out, or they are drowned out by the monsoon.
“Are you fucking thick or something, you stupid Jock bastard?” He’s taken another step towards me. “Just fucking walk on by.”
He’s at exactly the right distance. I sprint, then leap feet first at head height. The sole of my right boot makes contact with his jaw with sufficient force to propel him backwards into his accomplice’s midriff, knocking both off their feet. I’m on top of him instantly and use both hands to crash the back of his skull satisfyingly against the ground. I know that’s him sorted.
His oppo is hauling himself back to his feet, using the wheelie bin for leverage. I launch myself at his back, grabbing a shoulder in each hand and pulling him down. The wheelie bin tips over and spews out ripped bin bags. Despite the rain, the sulphide and ammonia stench of rot almost makes me retch. I steel myself against the reflex, but my opponent is less resolute. As he gags, I rabbit punch his Adam’s apple and he rolls backwards, clutching at his throat. I rise to my feet and administer a ferocious kick to the side of his head, which jerks violently. He is lying prone so I check whether he is unconscious or dead. It’s the former, and the same for the other guy when I check him. The thought occurs that I could do the world a favour by snapping both of their necks. But two killings would draw far too much unwelcome attention to the incident, so I don’t act on the impulse.
What makes your featured book a must-read?
This typical review explains why the book is a must-read: "I had a long to-do list when I started reading this, but it turned out those things had to wait – I just needed to keep going until the end. And I wasn't disappointed (as is so often the case) when I got there! But it's not just plot plot plot. While there was the odd cliché of the type one expects in the genre, that was more than made up for by the humorous turns of phrase and the wry observations. Govan also does a neat thing with the narration: the main character talks to himself (as expected with the 1st person) but he simultaneously speaks directly to the reader, bringing us in close to the story. Cracking read! Coming to TV soon?"
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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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