First Storm is a novel by E. G. Ellory. I have previously followed short stories by this author, and I liked the writing style. The story is a “Solomon Stone” thriller and the first writing I have seen by this author in a work that is not a short story. This 2019 publication promised a more well developed, better-trained adversary for bad guys. The idea of a protagonist that will develop a target and “dismantle” the lives of individual or institutional targets is imaginative, and I looked forward to reading how Ellory would express this idea.
The British government has contracted an agency to do its dirty work, the “dismantling” of a rogue agent, “The Ghost,” the current target of Solomon Stone. Already, I have a problem with the story. Sorry to disillusion the naïve readers of spy novels, but governments don’t do this. Governments create their organizations and do their dirty work. There are many historical examples to support this. Subcontracts for military operations are routinely made. Subcontracts for data collection and analysis exist, but the kind of work described here, especially in the way it is described, doesn’t meet a believability test.
The novel is a work of fiction, so why not allow a free-ranging imagination to produce such a story? It is certainly permissible, but characters and plots have to be skillfully blended to sustain reader interest. First Storm has an interesting plot; some may think it believable in today’s world of recurring economic crisis events. Very rich tycoons, businesspeople, scheming politicians, and greedy folks in general, form a cabal to generate chaos in markets and governments, all for their financial gain. The situation is believable but does not need to be repeated ad nauseam. For example:
Chapter 6: “world’s most powerful people orchestrate mass chaos to destabilize financial markets for personal gain” (690).
Chapter 6: “every detail of this select group bent on destruction for personal gain.” (712)
Chapter 7: an elite trio who use their power and wealth to destabilize their own country for financial gain.” (851)
There are similar repetitions throughout the novel. I get the idea. There is a group of bad people with evil intent. Having it repeated similarly over and over grates.
Alexander Rowe, “The Ghost,” is a rogue intelligence agent sharing information with anyone who has money. Tom Brooke, now known as Solomon Stone, received the mission to kill “The ghost.” George Ingram, Solomon’s controlling agent, oversees the mission and Solomon. Ingram had recruited Brooks, had him change his name to Stone, supervised Stone’s training, and was now testing Stone on his first mission. Even though “The Ghost” has eluded capture for many months, Solomon and his organization track him down and kill him in Chapter One as a part of Stone’s first field mission. Solomon must now protect agents compromised by “The Ghost.”
I found it difficult to care about any characters. There are a political activist and a journalist who threaten to expose operation Fire Storm which has the mission of destabilizing governments. The operation will be carried out by three rich businessmen, each with an area of expertise. Another assassin, Sennel, will try to kill the activist and journalist before Fire Storm is exposed. Solomon will try to stop or kill Sennel. There are many characters in this story.
I could not find any well-developed character. Solomon Stone, the main character, a person who should have his character the most fleshed out, frequently ruminates about his past mundane life from which he escaped into the word of intelligence. When not in such a contemplative mood, he revels in the isolation that he must keep himself in to avoid detection by anyone. All his thoughts are expressed in homilies such as “Death is rarely a topic of discussion – rather a form of collateral damage each intelligence operative recognizes.” (349). The most disturbing thought was “Killing is part of the game, at times, and as the house of cards continues to tumble down on the rich and powerful, I get the distinct impression that I may have to kill again before the mission is complete.” (1332).
I spent several years working in and with the intelligence community. Solomon would not have gotten far with these type of thoughts. Not in all cases, but most of the time, periodic psychological evaluations (where I worked) catch nut jobs like these before they advance to a position where they can do great harm. Veteran intelligence types gather and tell stories about wash-outs like this, usually after a lot of alcoholic prompting.
My bias of having worked intelligence for several years makes me hypercritical of works purporting to reveal secret rogue (but legitimate) organizations battling secret rogue illegitimate ones. There is a good, central story in this novel. It is mechanically well written except for one completely confusing sentence that had to be a typo. This sentence left me completely confused: “It will need to be dismantled before Levy we make our exit, the catalogue of intelligence on the powerful few safety stowed between us.” (541). I gave this novel three stars and will not read the further adventures of Solomon Stone.
This novel is available on Kindle Unlimited.