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The Collaborator, By Gerald Seymour

Seymour excels in the family way

We live in an era in which our intelligence is routinely insulted. Most thrillers are now characterised by minimum ambition and minimum skill. So it's encouraging that the novels of Gerald Seymour continue to grace bookshop shelves.

The veteran writer has rarely strayed from forging complex and innovative thrillers that remind readers of the best work of an earlier generation of matchless espionage writers, notably in the creation of fully realised characters rather than puppets. He is less inclined these days to travel to the hot spots he vividly renders, but his use of locales remains nonpareil. His new book plunges into Mafioso territory; it might be described as a thinking reader's Mario Puzo.

The Collaborator takes Seymour to Italy – and for a writer keen to anatomise compromised governments, the surprise is that he hasn't traversed this terrain more often. The scions of the all-powerful Borelli family are living in London; Immacolata is caring for her brother, wanted for murder by the Italian authorities.

This family is feared in Naples – they are part of the vicious Camorra, and retribution for transgressions is swift. Immacolata flies to Naples when she hears of the death of a friend, but realises that her own family is responsible. The victim's family spit at her, but she decides that she will do something irrevocable: make a stand in memory of her friend. She has placed herself in mortal danger, not least because of a wild card – her English boyfriend, Eddie, who becomes a pawn in the family conflict.

When so many novelists in the field are happy with shopworn plots, Seymour always manages to create fresh and original protagonists, and weaves for them situations unlike anything he has come up with before. In The Collaborator, his professionalism ensures a forceful, kinetic narrative. Seymour will never match the stratospheric sales of other writers, but perhaps the dumbing down of popular culture has some checks and balances.

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