Dennis Milne is a former cop and part-time assassin. He only kills people who in his opinion, deserve to die. Now he has been sent to Manila and is waiting for his next target: a woman who has made some deadly enemies.
DI Tina Boyd is also in Manila, on her own and hunting down the man responsible for the death of her lover. She knows just how dangerous and ruthless he is but she is determined to bring him to justice.
Dennis and Tina, a cop and an ex-cop both with pasts that haunt them are now facing a future that could see them both dead. It is a risk however that for Tina especially, she is willing to take as it is time for some payback.
I have read a few Simon Kernick novels previously and one thing you are always assured of is an action packed tale full of suspense and over the top action. Indeed so much can happen in the space of just 24 hours in a Kernick novel, you often forget that only a day has passed, which is often what makes his novels unrealistic in this respect, but at all times fast-paced escapism.
The hero in a Kernick novel is usually an ordinary likeable guy who defies death time and time again but Kernick manages to keep the reader hooked despite some of the far-fetched plots.
Something I have particularly enjoyed about Kernick's novels are that they have often featured the same police characters and villains. This is something I personally find interesting and probably a major reason why I keep reading his novels. One of my favourite authors, Harlan Coben does this too and whilst Kernick isn't quite in the same league as Coben in my opinion, I can see why he has often been compared to him. Indeed there are actually endorsements from Coben on the cover of Kernick novels praising his writing style.
The Payback sees DI Tina Boyd returning once again, but this time instead of being a supporting character she is actually the main character here. Previous novels have seen her building up many reasons to want the man responsible for killing her lover brought to justice and here she finally decides enough is enough after another killing takes place. After an attempt on her own life, she goes off alone to Manila to seek revenge without her superior's knowledge, after repeated attempts by the police fail to track down the man responsible.
I will mention here that you do not need to have read any of the previous novels to understand this story. Indeed they are very much stand-alone novels and enough background is given by the author for the reader to understand the 'revenge' aspects of the story. Although the same police characters feature in the books I have read, you do not need to read any in a particular order. Kernick also to his credit does not include any long-winded information on the characters past, but instead weaves the history the reader needs to know into the story in such a way it keeps it flowing and doesn't bog you down with the past. The story stays firmly in the present for the most part and never strays far away from the plot.
Ex-policeman turned assassin Dennis Milne, is also a returning character and I am aware he featured in Kernick's 2005 novel, A Good Day To Die, but this is not one I have personally read. Despite not being aware of Milne prior to this novel, I found Kernick provided all the information I needed to know about him just as he does with Tina Boyd, so I can safely say from my own experience that once again it does not matter if you have no previous knowledge of one of the characters and it does not spoil your enjoyment or understanding of the story at all. The story dips into Milne's past for a little while but this allows the reader to understand Milne and I think Kernick describes the guilt and feelings Milne experiences very well, allowing you to see he is more than just a cold-blooded assassin. You wouldn't expect to have any sympathy for a hitman, but Milne proves he has compassion and his struggles to justify what he does makes for some interesting reading.
The majority of the story takes place in Manila, where Milne has been sent to carry out an 'assignment' for his employer, Dutch gangster Bertie Schagel. Ensuing events see his path cross with that of Tina Boyd and the two form an unlikely partnership which is life-changing for Milne and carries out a whole load of new dangers as he makes a major decision which could ultimately end his life.
This is actually the first novel of Kernick's where I found the action to be spread out over a longer period of time. The characters actually go to bed, days pass and ultimately you are not left feeling how could all that possibly have happened in one day. The slightly slower pace gives this novel a more realistic feel in terms of time and authenticity.
Kernick's detailed research and use of contacts in the Metropolitan Police is also evident, but the excitement and suspense I have came to expect with his work is still present throughout.
The 'unbelievable' aspect is probably the fact that Tina Boyd takes off to Manila alone to seek justice and revenge when knowing exactly how dangerous the guy she is seeking is. I also found myself wondering how she manages to come through such bloody violence relatively unscathed in parts of the book, but it does add to the excitement as long as you don't take the story too seriously and simply enjoy it for what it is.
There weren't any real shocks in The Payback but the suspense and tension are always present. I still enjoyed it from start to finish and credit particularly should be given to Kernick's development of Dennis Milne. The mixture of cold-blooded assassin with flashes of increasing guilt for what he does ensures sympathy develops for his plight, despite me initially thinking there was no way I would actually have any sympathy for him.
If you enjoy an exciting thriller which draws you in from the first page and maintains the tension until its conclusion then The Payback should appeal. It isn't my favourite novel of Kernick's but I still enjoyed the read. The Payback is a novel to pick up and absorb yourself in its action packed escapism whilst not paying much attention to the realism of it all.