Go Fast is a pacy noir thriller, loaded with real world grit and cynicism. This highly entertaining action thriller is not like anything you’ve read before, unless you’ve read Dead Ground. This is the follow-up novel, Simon Ellice’s second outing. Simon has now left the army following a nightmare operation in Afghanistan. He couldn’t stay in the army, but he sure as hell couldn’t go home either. There is no home for an ex-soldier like Simon Ellice, he’s a lost soul. At the end of Dead Ground it was unclear where Simon would fit in but fate has taken him to Morocco. He’s on the wrong side of the law now, he works for Guy, a shady and ruthless Englishman who operates a hash smuggling business. Simon has a nice boat and a motley crew.

Soumaiya takes care of Simon, she’s there for all his needs, Guy owns her, she’s a perk for his best man. There is nothing pleasant about this world. It’s a day for a boat trip: Musty, Mustafa Ben Berri, a street dealer who just made it out of Beirut, and Martin, a giant Swede with a volatile temper are armed and ready. Tony, Happy and Pete remain at the port. The Nottambulo is a ‘Go Fast’ boat, she can out run anything on the water, top speed – eighty knots. The gang load the bales and the Nottambulo heads out of the lagoon to the Alboran sea between Morocco and Spain. When they rendezvous with the trawler, Canaillas, Captain Jans hails them. A shot rings out and Jans’ body hits the water, it’s a trap. Simon and his men respond, volleys fly both ways. Simon manages to get his boat away from the trawler, but at a high cost:

“I knew that Musty was gone on as soon as I shone the torch on him. He had slumped back against the bales, more or less upright and facing me. I couldn’t see any blood but I could see his eyes; only the dead look at you that way.”

Martin is also wounded, he dies as Simon searches for a cove to unload and stash the cargo before heading back to port. Simon picks up his Lincoln from Azooz, organises the boat repairs and drives up to see Guy. That’s where he runs into Sam, Guy’s daughter, she’s a bit younger than Simon, beautiful and knows it. When Simon decides to go back for the stuff, Sam decides to tag along for the ride. Her father doesn’t seem to mind, in fact he positively encourages it. While Simon goes ashore to get the stash, Tony and Sam keep watch on the boat. When Tony tries it on with the boss’s daughter she uses a technique that doesn’t come form her Swiss finishing school to explain she is not interested – a Kalashnikov to the jaw, more than once, Sam is reckless. None of this should be a game but it is to Sam. Naturally Simon can’t resist her, he already knows better but Soumaiya tries to warn him anyway. Laying down with Sam is liking resting in a field of wheat with a combine harvester heading your way. Following the failed ambush of the shipment, Simon is now out for blood. One name crops up, Mochadem Djout of Arkiba. Simon starts with the guys who actually hijacked the trawler, before they die Simon gets them to set up Afra Saliba, second son of Mochadem Djout.

That might have made a book in itself but there is far more to this story, cross and double cross, murder and kidnapping, police and mercenaries, spies and smuggling. Sam is a ticking time bomb, but not everything that is going on sits well with Simon. He’s got to watch his back, his guys are in danger and so is Soumaiya. Who’s on whose side? That’ll keep you guessing.

Simon Ellice is a great character, he has an emotional centre, it doesn’t get in the way of the action but it does mean there’s more subtlety to this tale than the usual adventure story. Cold-hearted Guy is a tricky bastard but Sam is a force of nature. Soumaiya and some of the boys working for a local business man show up the hard truth of life for ordinary people in this part of the world; modern slavery/trafficking. The setting is hot and sweaty and alive with the feel of North Africa.

Simon Ellice will be back in November in two more novels, Star Light and Blood Stock. I’m already waiting with baited breath. This is the adventure thriller souped up like a Go Fast boat and made contemporary.

I found Rod Humphris because I saw the art work on the cover of his first novel Dead Ground in a photo of a Bath bookshop window (seen on Twitter). Sometimes you just have an instinct, I’m glad I followed it up, because Dead Ground and this novel, Go Fast, have proved to be great reads. The cover design, Laura R. Molnar and the illustrations by Molnar and James Nunn are complementary to the text. We have some very good small independent regional presses publishing fiction that deserves to be read, Rat’s Tales is one such.

Paul Burke 4/4

(Paul’s review of Dead Ground can be found here)

Go Fast by Rod Humphris
Rat’s Tales Ltd 9780993576195 pbk Jun 2019