Dark Heart, Heavy Soul: a rogue Russian

DarkHeartKonstantin is a killer. Ex-KGB, ex-FSB, now skulking in the shadows in the run-down seaside towns of Kent, of all places. He dresses like a tramp, bears a bitter grudge from his past life, always checks over his shoulder and rarely fights fair. He’s an excellent operations planner and is known in the worst kind of way to the British security services… who make one of those offers he can’t refuse to do a job he’d rather not. Konstantin is allocated a team; a killer woman with a skill-set to match his own, a bent corrections officer with a penchant for unwise violence, and an autistic jailbird who first has to be broken out of custody. Then the mismatched, distrustful gang are given their assignment – a Mission Impossible to break into one of the most secure cash-counting facilities in the country and steal something even more important than the millions of pounds on the premises…

It’s obviously been my month for reading ‘rogue agent’ rapid-fire romps, but this one does something innovative and daring within the constraints of the genre. Author Keith Nixon writes with panache and poise, in stylish stripped-down prose which evokes the atmosphere of a scuzzy pub or a seedy nightclub in a few savage sentences. He keeps the reader guessing throughout; Konstantin himself doesn’t quite know what’s going on, we never know what he’s planning, and every chapter contains a new twist, a sudden setback or a breath-taking action set-piece. The language is littered with throwaway wit and snappy one-liners – ‘…So are you, I thought, kept the penny for myself.’ – while the WTF? aspects of the plot keeps the pages turning non-stop. A couple of the minor characters are deeply intriguing: Mr Lamb, a British agent who’s probably as dangerous as Konstantin himself, and Violet, the woman who seems to play all sides against the middle. Plus there’s Konstantin himself, shrouded in secrecy, an enigma of a man.

Dark Heart is actually the fourth book in a series which features Konstantin so if you like to read series in order then you should probably start with The Fix before moving on. I began at the back end but had no problem familiarising myself with Konstantin’s twilight existence as an ex-agent in hiding. I suspect some of the unresolved questions I had after reading Dark Heart would’ve been answered if I’d started at the beginning, mind.

This is a superior action-thriller, layered with flashbacks, intriguing characters and tendon-snapping sequences of graphic violence. Konstantin is a bad man, and his mythology draws on the best that the genre can provide including a secret hideaway and savage guard dog (a la Andrew Vachss’ Burke); a convenient fixer who comes up with guns, cars and a safe house when required, and a semi-friendly copper who can provide intel or turn a blind eye. But Nixon makes these familiar figures feel fresh and intriguingly unreliable; his writing has a real edge to it which imbues every exchange with the genuine potential for dangerous betrayal. A writer with considerable control of his craft, this one.

I am absolutely yomped through Dark Heart and at the end was beset by only one concern: go back to the start of the series or look at what else Nixon has written?

9/10

Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason

Dark Heart, Heavy Soul by Keith Nixon is available as an ebook and paperback

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