Author: Kate Vane
Category: Dual Time Line, Contemporary Fiction, Book Review
BBC foreign correspondent Paolo Bennett is exiled to a London desk – and the Breakfast sofa – when he gets a call from Mark, a friend from university in eighties Leeds. Paolo knew Mark as a dedicated animal rights activist but now a news blog has exposed him as an undercover police officer. Then Mark’s former police handler is murdered.
Paolo was never a committed campaigner. He was more interested in women, bands and dreaming of a life abroad. Now he wonders if Mark’s exposure and his handler’s murder might be linked to an unexplained death on campus back when they were friends. What did he miss?
Paolo wants the truth – and the story. He chases up new leads and old friends. From benefit gigs and peace protests, to Whatsapp groups and mocktail bars, the world has changed, but Mark still seems the same.
Is Mark the spy who never went back – who liked his undercover life better than his own? Or is he lying now? Is Paolo’s friend a murderer?
BBC journalist/reporter Paolo Bennet was recording a report when his phone rang. The caller was Mark, an old friend from his student days, with an urgent appeal for him to come to Leeds.
Scenting a story and curious, Paolo agrees. On the train journey north Paolo scours the internet for anything he can find out about Mark. He wants to find out the truth—about Mark, his handler and about who caused a fire and unexplained death on campus back in the 80s. Paolo knew Mark Benson as an animal rights activist but he has now been exposed as undercover policeman Mark Swift. Paolo is conflicted after learning the truth about Mark and is unsure about his one time friend’s motives. Nevertheless, he travels to Leeds and meets Mark, only to learn Mark’s former police handler, Sid, has been murdered.
Paolo had so many questions he didn’t know where to start. On the train he had started to make notes, like he was preparing for an interview, structuring questions to establish a narrative arc — the political context, how Mark got involved, why he didn’t go back.
What it felt like to betray his friends.
The narrative alternates between Paolo’s time at university and the present and it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. That threw me a bit. I’d assumed it would be primarily a murder mystery, but that aspect was very much in the background. The story’s main focus is the characters, their pasts and present and how everything connects. That made it quite a slow starter for me and I found some of the passages were a little too dialogue heavy. Once I’d changed mindset from a murder mystery to a character driven story I was able to get into it more.
Paolo has obvious doubts about someone who had influenced him so much as a young man but the promise of a story spurs him on to chase leads and look up his old university friends. Could Mark have killed Sid? If so, why? Paolo knows now Mark is a liar but does he really believe Mark could be a killer. And what, if anything, has any of this to do with what happened on campus.
It was interesting to witness the perceptively described and played out dynamics between the diverse group of students. How the characters and their attitudes and principles, seemingly all but Mark’s, had changed in the years between university and present day. And as it happens, Mark wasn’t the only one who was sparing with the truth. Paolo started life as the more ordinary Paul Bennett. Some serious issues were tackled in the story, including animal testing and fracking, without being prejudicial either way. I would have enjoyed a little more exploration into the murder case but that’s just my personal preference. What makes this stand out are the extremely good character studies.
I chose to read and review Brand New Friendfor Rosie Amber’s book review team, based on a digital copy from the author.