The Concierge by Gerard Gilbert, book review: An agile, topical summer thriller

This first novel by The Independent's TV writer moves in unexpected directions and will keep you gripped until the end 

Alasdair Lees
Thursday 06 July 2017 17:09 BST

Here’s an agile, topical summer thriller that should keep you pinned to your sun-lounger for a couple of days.

Childhood friends Max Draycott and Harry Kimber are London hedge-fund hustlers captivated by a new, more beguiling pursuit, acting as opportunistic fixers – “concierges” – for petrodollar playboys looking to snap up prime real estate or rare gems. Max has rescued Harry from failure, shame and penury in his former career as a journalist and both men are nursing inner demons rooted in the past. A betrayal is already playing itself out behind the scenes of Harry’s mentorship as the pair set about buying a choice diamond for a Saudi billionaire. But their greed and drive to become glorified lackeys to the new global elite catapults them into a lethal storm after the stone is stolen.

Gilbert is a seasoned journalist specialising in writing about TV, and he brings to this, his first novel, an instinct for dramatic tempo, crisp exposition and thematic pertinence. Max and Harry, anxious for a big score before the headwinds of Brexit hit, servile to London’s new masters, are unwittingly sucked into a terror conspiracy made possible by the collapse of Syria and the migrant crisis. There are a couple of superbly drawn action scenes, and the storytelling moves in unexpected directions. Max and Harry’s clownish venality and lack of moral fibre bring a humorous cast to the chain of events and the lone-wolf villain comes with an almost sympathetic back-story.

In his notes, Gilbert acknowledges the challenges of writing a Trump-era novel seemingly ripped from the headlines. It is to his credit that the central themes of terrorism and migration are handled with intelligence and subtlety, and an obvious dedication to committed research. As in contemporary films such as Paul Greengrass’s Captain Phillips, about a Somali pirate attack on a US container ship, he provides a compelling global context to the forces driving terror and civilian displacement.

Details such as the reference to the grisly Islamic State phenomenon “the biter” (news to me) deliver surface grain and colour a lesser writer simply wouldn’t bother with. Similarly, the unexpected twists toward the end lead to a payoff that would have led to a more predictable conclusion in the hands of a cheaper pulp hack. It could make for an excellent TV adaptation, along the lines of Antonia Bird’s The Hamburg Cell (aired, to some surprise, some 13 years ago).

This is a very enjoyable 21st century geopolitical ride, whose strengths really come into their own when the story heads into continental Europe, moving from snow-bound Switzerland to mafisio-run Italy.

It’s for those looking for a satisfying, amusing and smart holiday potboiler. It’s a slick and nimble performance. It’ll be interesting to see what he tackles next.

'The Concierge' by Gerard Gilbert is published by Pegasus, £9.99

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