Desperate Measures
Jo Bannister
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Buy *Desperate Measures* by Jo Bannisteronline

Desperate Measures
Jo Bannister
Minotaur Books
320 pages
December 2015
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Bannister has kept us in suspense for a year waiting for her to unfurl her final novel in the Gabriel Ash series. In the previous book, Ash and his best friend, DC Hazel Best, viewed a video of Gabrielís wife, Cathy held hostage by Somali pirates. The video was shocking, leading Ash to shake like a man in an epileptic fit; he is unable to believe that his wife and sons are alive after four long years. Gabriel is a far cry from the smart, confident government security analyst who had a scheme for combating Somali piracy. As Desperate Measures begins, Gabriel is once again living like a recluse on the house where he was born, acting like a shattered wreck of a man, barely venturing out except when his loyal white dog, Patience, needs walking.

Viewed nine hours previously, the video is a game changer, allowing Hazel and Ash to follow up on old leads, particularly the people that Ash talked to just before Cathy and his two young sons disappeared. The first is Ashís old nemesis, Stephen Graves, who warns Gabriel that the pirates will kill Cathy if they donít get exactly what they want. Despite his pleas, Graves admits to Ash there is no way of contacting the pirates. Still, Ash is convinced that Graves knows more than heís letting on, most pointedly, the identity of the man who shot at Ash, Hazel, and Patience, then forced Hazelís car into a ditch on a remote country road. He would have killed them both if not for Patience, who drove him off.

Gabrielís tribulations and the breakdown they provoked have left him desperately uncertain of the world and his place within it. Overwhelmed and terrified, Ash waits for word on Cathy. The video doesnít lie: he knows what he saw and heard. Somewhere in Somalia, Cathy is being held hostage by men whose only use for her is as a human shield. As the days pass and his unbearable burden grows, Gabrielís therapist, Laura Fry, begs him to go to the police, something that Hazel--who has recently fallen from grace of Norboldís senior police officer--seems reluctant to do. DI Dave Gorman is the only man she can trust as she finds herself thrust into the orbit of a street kid named Saturday and the actions of Mr. Charles Armitage, a successful professional and family man whose laptop is stolen by Saturday.

Bannisterís two-pronged narrative focuses on the deep and abiding friendship between Gabriel and Hazel. Hazel is a clear-eyed pragmatist who confronts Charles Armitage about the contents of his laptop photo file, knowing that she can prove nothing. She must come to terms with Gabrielís fatal decision to put his own life before his family. Sheís terrified when she discovers someoneís footprints outside her kitchen window, a stranger hiding in the dark and watching her. Perhaps it is Armitage who has come to take revenge on Saturday, the street kid with no family, no status, and no friends, whom Hazel has invited to come and live with her.

Although she sometimes overwrites, Bannister combines tense plotting with complex character development to convey how deeply jaded the characters in the novel are. Everyone is on edge, longing for something more and trying to go after it in a self-destructive and obsessive fashion--especially Gabriel, who refuses to listen to the truth about his wife, even when the scientific evidence obtained by Hazel is staring him in the face. All is awash in desperation, anguish and denial as Hazel and Ash find themselves caught in a war against criminals who donít hesitate to put a cash value on peopleís lives. Nothing justifies letting Ash think heís brought about the destruction of his family.

Steadily building to a climax in bucolic Ullswater, an isolated part of the Lake District, Bannister unfurls an intricately tangled narrative of misdirected desire and masterful deception in which the perfect crime is that if you donít kill someone, you must persuade them to kill themselves. In this world, a future of luxury and self-indulgence is bought with the profits of a certain manís ingenuity, along with a woman whose steely, deceptive beauty might turn heads but comes at a terrible price.

Bannister has done a great job of capturing a man on the edge, desperate to protect those whom he loves. The final passages are written with a tension and anxiety that made me shiver. It comes as no surprise that Gabriel is totally devastated by what he discovers. Because his suffering is so vivid and excruciating, itís hard to imagine that the author will even have Gabriel surviving. Perhaps Desperate Measures will be his last hurrah. Weíll just have to wait and see.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2016

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