Catherine (‘Cat’, inevitably) is a talented woman. Smart enough to be a biochemist. Beautiful enough to be a top-class catwalk model. Physically skilled and strong enough to free-climb a sleek city office block. Determined enough to avenge the financial ruin and deaths of her parents. Yup, she’s a thoroughly modern girl.
But Cat is also a wonderful throwback to Emma Peel and Purdey of the Avengers TV series; there’s definitely something of the Honor Blackman or Diana Rigg about her. Indeed, the whole atmosphere of Catalyst is resoundingly retro and it shares a lot of style with The Avengers and The Saint, and even the early Bond movies. Catalyst is not a pastiche nor a parody but feels instead like a loving tribute to the sensibilities and sly humour of those 1960s spy series. Yet it’s most definitely set in the 21st century and it doesn’t lampoon its influences so much as cherish them – think of Kingsman: The Secret Service rather than Austin Powers…
The author plainly loves his wordplay and punning, as demonstrated not only by the theme of the Avenging Cat series (Catalyst is the first, followed by Catacomb and Cataclysm, with Cat’s Eye in the pipeline) but also by the characters’ names and attributes. The villain in chief is Loup Malefice; he has an evil henchman (Zabala) while the sinister scientist is a whip-wielding woman named Profesora Quesada. It’s all jolly entertaining.
And there’s a coherent plot to push the action along, one which touches on animal rights, science running amok, corporate abuses of the environment and human trafficking alongside good old-fashioned love, jealously, betrayal, intrigue and, of course, murder. The writing is straightforward and easy to follow, although occasionally it gets bogged down a little bit in everyday minutiae (I didn’t need the entire motorway route map from Lindisfarne to Wales, for instance). However, author Nik Morton can deliver a gripping action set piece; the opening sequence involving Cat’s incredible climb is outright excellent and skilfully pulls the reader straight into the fray.
There were another couple of aspects of Catalyst which I particularly enjoyed: the role reversal, for example, which gleefully subverts gender stereotypes and sees the leading man tied helpless to railway track (yes, really), relying on the all-action heroine to come to his aid. I was also utterly intrigued by the police officers tasked with investigating Cat’s actions and who begin following her path as it zigzags across the UK and onwards to Spain. One of them is known as ‘Inspector Mushroom’ because he only comes out after dark – can’t wait for that back-story to be explained in a future episode. In fact, he’s such an interesting character that he probably deserves a spin-off story all of his own.
Catalyst made for an enjoyable afternoon’s light-hearted entertainment. It’s wry and witty, well observed, and fast paced. The violence and intimate action all leans towards the delicate end of the scale so there’s nothing here to shock or horrify. Good, old fashioned fun, in fact. Steed would certainly approve.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Catalyst by Nik Morton is available as an ebook or paperback
You’ll also find the author’s own blog with details of his other (excellent) spy series here
Looking for a rapid read?