The Time to Kill - Mason Cross

The Time to Kill (Winterlong) - Mason Cross ****

As far as Carter Blake's work at finding people goes, his latest assignment in The Time to Kill seems to be relatively straightforward and doesn't necessarily have to lead to someone dying in the process. For the former secret ops CIA agent operating 'freelance', that's not always something you could count on in Mason Cross's two previous Carter Blake novels, but what harm can there be tracking down a regular person, a mere amateur who thinks it's easy to steal computer secrets and then go into hiding without leaving any trace?

Obviously things don't turn out to be all that simple and it doesn't take too long to find out why things might become a bit more complicated. It doesn't actually take long for a man of Carter Blake's experience to track down Scott Bryant, a software developer who has absconded with a flash drive containing the next big thing since Facebook. Bryant plans to sell MeTime to a competitor and 'disappear' with a nice payoff, but Blake has been assigned by the company's owner to stop the handover, and sure enough, it isn't too long before Blake has a solid lead to follow.

Blake's history and his former employment, some of which we know about from Mason Cross's two previous Blake novels (The Killing Season and The Samaritan), is however about to come back to haunt him. The CIA, believe it or not, haven't always been good boys in the past, and Blake knows a bit too much about the kind of activities they've been involved in. One such project is Winterlong. The warning comes when Blake hears of the execution of a former colleague hiding out in Siberia, and if they can get to someone hiding there, it surely won't be long before they find Blake as well.

It comes at an inconvenient time, although it's hard to say that there's any good time for an elite CIA hit squad to show up on your doorstep. You'd be surprised though, and evidently, Blake has suspected that the day might come, and he has kept some information on a drive that he hopes can guarantee his safety. As long as the Winterlong squad don't get to the drive first.

Essentially then The Time to Kill isn't much more than than one long chase sequence, the difference here being that there is a reversal of the usual roles. This time it's the hunter being hunted, Blake ironically going from chasing down a man with a stolen data drive to being the man being chased down on account of a data drive in his possession. As someone who is an expert at finding people who want to disappear, Blake however has rather more experience in the field. The activities of the secret ops missions, and in particular one job in Kandahar in Afghanistan, open up the scope of the novel further and provide some interesting background on the main character.

There's no need then to have read the previous Carter Blake novels to get full value out of this one (although I have read The Killing Season and can highly recommend that). The Time to Kill operates at much the same pace and Mason Cross's clean, precise and efficient writing will keep you on the right track. It's perfect no-nonsense writing, measured for impact and suspense, constantly generating tension in a story that, despite initial expectations, becomes a little more complicated than originally expected. And yes, a few people die in the process, but then you've probably guessed that by now...

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The Time to Kill by Mason Cross is published by Orion on 30 June 2016

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