Audiobook review of ‘Outbreak’ by Frank Gardner

Description from the publisher:

The explosive new thriller featuring MI6 operative Luke Carlton on his most terrifying mission yet.

Deep within the Arctic Circle, three scientists from the UK’s Arctic Research Station trudge through a blizzard in search of shelter. They see a cabin ahead. It appears abandoned. No lights. No snowmobile outside. But as they push open the door, the smell hits them. Rank and foetid: there’s something bad inside.

Then movement. A man lies slumped, his face disfigured by livid pustules. Blood runs from his nostrils; his chest glistens blackly. The team’s medic, Dr Sheila Mackenzie, pushes forward to examine him when the convulsions start. Blood, bile and mucus spray into the air. The doctor knows it’s too late – she’s been contaminated . . .

Within hours, a full-scale operation to contain this contagion is underway. Samples are rushed to the laboratories at Porton Down on high alert. What they discover changes everything. Supported by phone and data intercepts, British Intelligence reaches a terrifying conclusion: that Russia has been developing a new generation of bio-weapons.

Dispatched to investigate, MI6’s Luke Carlton finds himself on a serpentine trail of lies and deception. From a mysterious factory in Lithuania, via arrest and imprisonment, and ultimately back to Britain, he discovers that they’ve been looking in the wrong place all along . . .

You can buy your copy of ‘Outbreak’ here.

My review:

Frank Gardner has the knowledge, experience and insight to write about things that are just within the probable, and I’d read more of his Luke Carlton series. He’s built a strong character, and through him we gain an interesting glimpse into the world of espionage and terrorist organisations. I felt that the storyline had been meticulously constructed and based on a detailed knowledge of similar real-world events. Its’ a great spy thriller, with a similar scope to the best James Bond plots, but without all the sexy bits. The novel itself was fast-paced, with many twists and turns before they got to the somewhat inevitable ending (although the last line opens up a whole new possibility).

However, right from the start, I found this audiobook to be rather an uncomfortable listen. I don’t read non-fiction as a general rule, mainly because I use reading as my escape and, although I also don’t read a lot of fantasy, things about real world problems get me anxious. Whilst this novel is definitely fiction (I hope!), there were a huge amount of mentions to real-world current affairs events, including Covid-19. For me, it was just too soon – I don’t really want to be reading about the Covid pandemic whilst we’re still tackling it. I’m sure, however, that some people will love this book for the same reason that I disliked it. Many readers will be looking for a novel that acknowledges the events of the last year, and this may well be the one for them.

As a reader, I was certainly kept on my toes with the many changes of setting and scenario. I really enjoyed the first part of the novel, which was set on an isolated outpost in Svalbard, but then we were swiftly back in London. We visited Russia at one point, with some horrific scenes of torture, and then it was back to Braintree in Essex. This novel certainly has a bond-esque backdrop!

As an audiobook, I found this novel to be well-read, and that on the whole, the narrator helped to bring the characters to life. The pacing and volume added to the novel’s tension and action. My only pet hate was that as soon as the author mentioned that one character spoke with slightly-noticeable hint of a northern accent, the narrator suddenly went full-on Coronation Street – being a northerner myself, I found that a little laughable.

Overall, if you’re looking for an action-packed, fast-paced spy thriller, then I would recommend this book. However, at this point, I found that my anxiety was triggered by all the mentions of real-world events, and so for me personally, in 2021, it’s not the read that I was hoping for.

Cover of Outbreak by Frank Gardner.
To buy ‘Outbreak’ on Amazon, click here.

‘Outbreak’ was published on May 2021. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC audiobook in exchange for my honest review.

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