A Single Source is an impressive topical novel; it’s an intelligent spellbinding thriller that shines a light on the dark shadowy underbelly of world events. In the acknowledgements to the novel, Hanington refers to that ‘difficult second album syndrome’. I can’t speak to how tough it was writing this novel but I can say it was worth every ounce of effort because this is a superb piece of storytelling, thoroughly convincing and totally realistic. If anything, A Single Source is even better than Hanington’s impressive debut thriller, A Dying Breed, the first William Carver novel.
From the first page I was stuck by Hanington’s straightforward and engaging storytelling. I was hooked and reeled in by the people at the heart of the novel. There is a clever layering of the complexity of the plot that ramps up the tension and seamlessly links the two strands of the story. The portrait of the grizzled, running to seed, veteran reporter, William Carver, getting his teeth into another story, finding the angle most of the journalists miss, is spot on. Patrick, his young admiring producer, a man prepared to risk himself to please/impress his seasoned colleague, is equally well drawn. Together they ground the novel very early on, it feels like these two men really could be a BBC team out there in the field. Their story leads us to the stories of the ordinary people of Egypt caught up in the death throes of the old regime, new democratic ideals and the Muslim Brotherhood as the Arab Spring takes flight.
This is a thriller alive to global events and contemporary shifts in the tectonic plates that shape our world. How governments’ decisions, some taken thousands of miles away, affect the lives of the people on the street of Cairo – isn’t it always the ordinary people who have to live with the consequences? There is another strand to the novel, the journey of two migrants en route to Europe from Eritrea, which bleeds into the main story but also illustrates some of the tragedy of the migrant journey. Hanington imparts a real world sense of tragedy and displays a healthy cynicism in this story.
The first novel in this series, A Dying Breed, saw veteran BBC reporter, William Carver in Kabul, Afghanistan. An explosion kills a local government official but nobody wants Carver digging into what actually happened. A young producer is sent out to work with Carver, Patrick’s job is to keep an eye on him, to rein him in. Only the story is not so straightforward and the enemy may be much closer to home than it first appears. Carver is a journalist caught up in the machinations of Whitehall and the BBC. Avoiding spoilers for that novel, the second starts in Eritrea:
Gabriel sends his grandsons to Adam Adonay, he wants them to get to Europe and this man owes him a favour. Gabriel has saved for two years to raise the $600 needed for the boys to secure their passage; from Eritrea to Sudan, Sudan to Libya, Libya by sea to Europe. Even with their newly acquired guarantees from Mr. Adam the journey will be dangerous.
London, 27th December, 2010. William Carver collects Patrick for a trip to the BBC monitoring station in Caversham, just outside Reading. They are going to meet the formidable Jemima McCluskey. She hands Carver a number of documents from sources all over North Africa and even further afield: Tunis, Tripoli, Algiers, Cairo, Rabat, Sana’a, Riyadh. Individually they aren’t much, but together they begin to tell a story. A story Carver sets out to chase.
Cairo, Egypt, 25th January, 2011. Nawal is cataloguing the abuse of power by the police in the streets around Tahrir Square. Carver is also a witness to the violence, several victims wind up in hospital (they become the statistics for the day). Away from the square he sees a young boy with a club foot smiling and singing as he walks down the street towards him. They both see the policeman but too late as the truncheon comes out hitting the boy with all the force the policeman can muster. One blow and the child hits the pavement. The policeman is gone by the time the family come running.
London, 26th January, 2011. Rob Mariscal leaves the flat he shares with his girlfriend on the Old Kent road heading to the office, today is a new start of sorts. There’s a new Minster of Defence, Mr. Whitewing, an ex-military man, they all have high hopes of him. The CEO of Quadrel Engineering and Defence is monitoring the change at the MOD closely. Weapons manufacturers rely heavily on the support of the ministry abroad.
As the Arab Spring begins to unfold journalists from all over are following developments. Carver is given a piece of information that puts a new slant on events at Tahrir Square. As London try to rein him in again and Whitehall applies pressure at the BBC to ensure certain things remain secret, Carver ploughs on, this is a story that will cost lives. A story that comes from a single source but Carver has seen the evidence with his own eyes.
Hanington understands his subject thoroughly, he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience gained over a number of years as a journalist to his stories. Several foreign correspondents and reporters have had a stab at writing this kind of international thriller, very few have come up with much more than pot boilers. Hanington is the exception. A Single Source is an intelligent novel, well plotted and, crucially, firmly grounded in the real world. It is written with a coherence that gives it more punch. As a reporter Hanington isn’t just looking to say what he sees, he asks ‘why?’ and ‘What’s behind that?’ It’s a quality he brings to this novel to powerful effect. Some of the revelations here, though sadly not shocking, are disturbing – closer to home than we would like them to be. A Single Source reminds me of Dan Fesperman’s best novels because of Hanington’s ability to dig out the story and turn it a gripping read but also increasing our understanding of events we may think we know well.
Paul Burke 4/4
A Single Source by Peter Hanington
Two Roads 9781473625457 hbk May 2019