Review: THE DIRECTIVE by Matthew Quirk (Headline/Back Bay)

Quirk-MF2-DirectiveUKA series of unfortunate events met with terrible decisions

What if the only way to go straight is to break the law?

Michael Ford has finally escaped his chequered past to lead the respectable life he’s always dreamed of, preparing to settle down with his fiance Annie. But the quiet is shattered when his brother, Jack, comes back into his life.

Jack is a world-class con man who has finally overplayed his hand. He’s in way over his head in a conspiracy to steal a billion-dollar secret from the heart of the financial system. And in an effort to help his brother, Mike soon finds himself trapped by the dangerous men in charge — and responsible for pulling off the heist himself.

With Annie’s safety on the line, Mike tries to figure out who’s behind the job — and realises the only way to keep the honest life is to return to his criminal past. But will he get in too deep to save Annie’s life?

You may have caught my glowing review for Matthew Quirk’s debut, The 500. It was with considerable anticipation, therefore, that I awaited for his next book. The Directive, a direct sequel, failed to live up to my expectations. There are some good things to say, but sadly it had just as many flaws as strengths and they eclipsed much of what I enjoyed.

The story moves so quickly, here. This will certainly keep readers hooked as they blitz through. That being said, it took me two attempts to read this – the first time, I got through about 10% before moving over to something else. Upon returning, I did zip through the rest in one go. The break-neck pacing was not fast enough to gloss over flaws and gaps in the narrative, however. The aforementioned stupid decisions (in standfirst) came pretty thick and fast — it gave the plot a really contrived feel. I’m not sure this was inevitable, and I think Quirk could have spent a little more time ensuring the plot had a logical progression.

Quirk-MF2-DirectiveUSInstead, the novel is filled with “Let me share my knowledge with you, dear reader” moments — especially about lock-picking. (My god, but there’s a lot of lock-picking scenes! All of which are extra-detailed…) Quirk’s attention to detail is, it must be said, admirable in other areas. He offers plenty of well-written, interesting (for me, anyway) detail and explanations on various Fed-related operations and Washington politics. Some readers will no doubt point out that these details are presented very much like Info-Dumps. They would not be wrong to do so. Therefore, it’s a bit difficult to get past the point of “Why didn’t you spend more time on fleshing out the story, rather than the accuracy of details?”

So much of this novel was frustrating, thereby diminishing any good feelings I got from the story’s potential and the chapters that were genuinely interesting and gripping. Even when Quirk tries to make Annie, Ford’s fiance, more badass and interesting near the end, and more than just a (clunky) plot device, he does it in an unoriginal way. In fact, the conflict Ford’s actions injects into his relationship with Annie feel so forced I was just irritated whenever this side of his life appeared. The “peril” was never genuine. She was a plot device and nothing more.

Annie’s place in the novel made me realise something else about the novel: It feels sloppy, unbalanced, and formulaic. It was almost as if the author was  writing this thinking, “Well, I need to include the following genre tropes, so I’ll put one here, here, and here.” Hitting certain beats is all well and good, but make sure it doesn’t look like that’s what you’re doing.

Ultimately, there are much better thriller series out there. Read The 500, and it will probably make you want to read The Directive. But I think you will be left as dissatisfied as I have been. This is such a shame, as I thought Quirk had so much potential. Hopefully his next novel will much better (and yes, despite my disappointment with this one, I’ll be back for his next).

***

The Directive is out now, published in the UK by Headline, and in the US by Back Bay/Little, Brown.

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