To the Lions is the debut international thriller from investigative journalist Holly Watt, the first in a new series featuring reporter Casey Benedict of the Post. The Post is a right-wing paper, its editorials nestle somewhere between the Times and the Telegraph in political outlook. The Post is much more aggressive when it comes to setting the news agenda and Casey has a reputation as a go getter when it comes to the elusive story too. When she stumbles across a rumour that could be a dynamite story, a bombshell for the financial markets, we discover just how far Casey is prepared to go, what sacrifices she is prepared to make, in order to get that scoop. In a story that takes us from London nightclubs to Libyan refugee camps via St. Tropez Casey won’t stop until the devastating secrets some very rich and powerful people are hiding are exposed. Watt has taken her own in-depth knowledge of the financial world, she worked on the Panama Papers and MP expenses, as a starting point for a grim tale of just how disposable human life can be for some of the world’s movers and shakers.

Casey Benedict is a hardened investigative journalist, she has survived in a tough newspaper environment, graduating from making coffee for the news editor to top notch reporter. She has handled assignments across the globe, in some of the hairiest places you can imagine, even war zones. But she has no idea just how dark the territory she is about to step into will get and how dangerous chasing this story will prove to be. The Post poached Miranda Darcey from The Argus to beef up their investigative strength. Miranda is beautiful, intelligent, and damned good at her job, Casey thought she might hate her, but they make a hell of a team.

When Casey gets a tip from Jasper, a doorman at the exclusive Gigi’s nightclub, she gets out of bed to chase the story. The Cormium team have an exclusive booth but it doesn’t take long for Casey to get herself invited to sit down. Word is Cormium are about to do a deal with the fledgling government of Libya to gain control of a substantial portion of the country’s oil supply. It’s a dead end until Carey overhears the guys in the next booth talking about a shooting party with live human targets. It’s vague, brief, but the reporter’s instinct tells her this is something worth following up. She ditches Cormium, Jasper says that the two guys she was eavesdropping on work for Argentinian hedge fund owner Sebastian Azarola, they don’t come much bigger. Next morning, Casey takes the story to the news editor, linking Azarola to a murder would be huge. The story stalls, she can’t even identify the guys from the booth, until Jasper tips her to their presence in St. Tropez, this time with Azarola present. Casey and Miranda hop a plane, they tackle one of the two guys from London, Adam Jefferson. Reluctantly, Adam tells them about a safari where real people, refugees, were used as targets, his friend Milo was in on it, but Milo is dead – an apparent suicide. Casey and Miranda team up with Ed, ex-military, to investigate. The last stamp on Milo’s passport is Algeria. Getting to the heart of this story will mean getting close to some very nasty people but winning their trust is the only way. They really have hit on a terrifying crime, one that nobody has even noticed is taking place because no one cares about the victims.

Watt has come up with an idea that I hope is pure fiction, the thought that it may have some basis in truth is terrifying. But as human depravity knows no end to the depths it can sink who knows? I can’t say Casey is a likeable character but I can see Watt being able to develop a decent series of fast-paced, action-based thrillers with her at the heart of the story. To the Lions demonstrates Watt’s understanding of the world her characters inhabit, from the newsroom to the foreign locations. The novel gets straight into the action and its good to have a tough female lead for this kind of story, a traditionally male preserve. To the Lions touches on some topical themes and for me this is a good beach read, meaty but not too taxing. I think a thriller reading group might love.

Paul Burke 3/4

To the Lions by Holly Watt
Raven Books 9781526602077 hbk Feb 2019