Neil Broadfoot – No Quarter Given
Published by Constable, hardback £19.99. Also available in ebook and audiobook I received a copy of the novel from the author for review purposes.
You can read my reviews of the previous novels in the Connor Fraser series – No Man’s Land, No Place To Die and The Point Of No Return – elsewhere on the blog. Full disclosure: Neil and I have been friends for many years, but his books earn their place on the blog like anyone else’s on the only criteria that matters: are they any good? Trust me, he’d be the first to know if I didn’t think they were…
First, the official blurb: She was lying in the road when he found her, crumpled and broken, the car that hit her screaming away from the scene in a haze of tyre smoke and exhaust fumes… Jennifer MacKenzie being hit by a car was a tragic accident. Or so it seemed. Until Connor is summoned to a meeting with his girlfriend’s dad, Duncan MacKenzie. MacKenzie claims that Jen’s accident was actually a message intended for him – and a way to force him to kill his trusted lieutenant, Paulie King, who has now mysteriously disappeared. His request to Connor is simple. Find Paulie and the men who hurt his daughter. Do whatever it takes. As an all-out gang war threatens to explode across central Scotland, Connor begins a journey that forces him to confront some uncomfortable truths about his girlfriend and the family he is connected to through her. But Connor is also driven by a vow – to find Paulie. And when he does, no quarter will be given.
It’s always a pleasure to watch a writer grow in confidence and skill through a series of novels – this is the fourth to feature close protection expert Connor Fraser; before that Neil Broadfoot also wrote three Edinburgh-set novels featuring a journalist and cop – and more so when you’ve known that writer since before they were first published (see disclaimer above!). It’s a particular pleasure to see a writer give us the novel you’ve long known they were working up to. I’ve no hesitation in saying straight off that this is a tremendous novel – let me try and explain why.
I was privileged to get an early look at the first couple of chapters earlier this year, and my initial reaction – “OMG, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!?!” – has not diminished on opening the finished volume. Connor Fraser’s girlfriend, Jennifer MacKenzie, is hit by a car outside the Stirling gym where she works. She is in a critical condition in a hospital bed – then her father, Duncan, tell Connor there is more to this than meets the eye. Over in Edinburgh, a body has been found in the swimming pool of the Scottish Government building in Leith. DS Susie Drummond is chilled by the message daubed on the wall by the pool: “This is not murder. This is justice.”
Twin explosions, both with signs that there’s more going on than random crude violence. There’s plenty more violence splashed throughout No Quarter Given, and while it serves the plot, the consequences are cruel and described bluntly, if briefly. So if you’re squeamish, be warned. There are also a few of Broadfoot’s now-trademark fight scenes, and while Connor may not be a 6ft 5in former US Army major, he knows where to punch for maximum effect.
The central cast are all present and correct: Duncan and his pet thug, Paulie; DCI Malcolm Ford and sidekick DS Troughton; journalist Donna Blake, and the return of Connor’s Belfast-based pal, Simon. Paulie in particular spends a lot of time in the spotlight – though he remains an offstage presence for a large chunk of the book, a smart technique that adds tension and keeps the reader guessing. And eagle-eyed readers of Broadfoot’s first series will be familiar with the name of the Edinburgh cop – it’s a “Broadfoot-verse” now, it seems…
Short, snappy chapters moving between Stirling and Edinburgh and the leads Connor and the cops are chasing keep the momentum going. There’s a serious tangle to unpick, and we readers are unpicking it at the same time as Connor and the cops. And while in hindsight you might say, “Well, of course!”, it’s unlikely you will say that while reading – and very unlikely you will guess the full scope of the why and the how. My advice: just sit back and enjoy the ride.
There is a link to the previous book in the series, The Point Of No Return, and you will get more from No Quarter Given if you have read some of the earlier novels, but it can be read as a standalone, as all the back story you need is dropped in along the way. However, I imagine that once you’ve finished NQG, you will want to go back and see what came before.
A few flashes of pitch-black humour along the way don’t so much leaven the darkness as underscore it – if you’re looking for a cosy, feel-good read, you won’t find it here. It is perhaps a darker novel than the previous books in the series, but also goes deeper, to great effect. And after close to 300 pages of tension, pain and confusion – plus an unexpected alliance, a series of reckonings and revelations of a horror that will echo for a long, long time – there is a glimmer of something hopeful for the future. I can’t wait to see how that turns out.
One thing we get more of in this novel than in previous instalments is emotion. We’re well used to Connor’s anger, and scenes with his gran have always been poignant. But here there’s deep grief, raw psychological pain, regret, sadness and vulnerability. He’s not one to voice these easily, but there are glimpses that say a lot in a few brief lines as Broadfoot has found new tools in his armoury, and the reader benefits as they make a deeper connection with the character. We also get a look at part of Paulie’s past, some of the reasons he became who and what he is today, and a glimpse behind that bullish facade, which is genuinely moving.
And while it’s still a bloke-heavy novel, the three main women characters – Jen, Donna and Susie – are solid, grounded people who all take a fair turn in the spotlight. I have been frustrated in the past with the under-use of Jen and Connor’s almost pathological avoidance of commitment to her. But here she shows real steel and smarts – which, given her past, always had to be there. We’ve been shown plenty of why she should like Connor; here we get a good look at why he should like her, trust her, rely on her. I hope to see more of her, and her capabilities, in future.
It’s obvious Broadfoot is a fan of thriller novels and action movies both stylish and gritty – there are moments that make me think of Jack Reacher, John Wicke and Jason Bourne, to name just some Js. But to me, both author and protagonist are very much their own man, each inhabiting a niche carved solely by and for themselves, which is a pretty damn special thing. In a world of wannabes and try-hards, Neil Broadfoot and Connor Fraser are the real deal.
Neil Broadfoot worked for 15 years as a journalist on local and national titles in Scotland before moving into communications, in both the public and private sectors. He is the author of seven books across two series set in Edinburgh (featuring Doug McGregor and Susie Drummond) and Stirling (focused on Connor Fraser). The first Doug & Susie novel, Falling Fast, was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize. The first Connor Fraser novel, No Man’s Land, was longlisted for the 2019 McIlvanney Award. He is also one of the Four Blokes In Search of a Plot, a quartet of crime writers who live write a story based on suggestions from the audience.
Neil Broadfoot will be appearing as part of the Noir At The Bar Edinburgh event at the Rose Street Theatre Cafe on 25 November. Tickets are available via Eventbrite (please book in advance). For more details and the full line-up, follow @NoirBarEdin on Twitter or find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/NoirattheBarEd.
The Four Blokes In Search Of A Plot are due to return to in-person events on 24 February 2022 at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe. Follow them on Twitter @FBlokes or check out their Facebook www.facebook.com/FourBlokesSearching