I borrowed Flashbacks by J.E Hall from a friend from university who, knowing of my passion for crime fiction, thought I would enjoy a thriller by a local author that she is familiar with. Turns out, she was right!
Meet Adam, a nineteen-year-old about to enjoy his gap year bicycling all the way from his native England to the Middle East. Over-protected by his parents, who insist on safety issues that he, clearly does not need.
Kaylah is doing Business Studies at Southgate University and daughter to Bishop Sam Kone, descendant of Caribbean immigrants and a television star. As any young woman, Kaylah does not agree with her parents’ beliefs, and keeps her mind open to other religious ideas.
Ali has recently given up his engineering studies to join IS because that is what was needed of him. However, after the expansion of the group in late 2014, things are now too quiet for his taste, until he is assigned a very special mission.
Flashbacks tells the story of these three main characters interconnected as they meet, work together, and fight against each other at a time when religious freedom and mobility has defined the UK as a true melting pot. However, the lives of Adam, Kaylah, and Ali are far more complicated, and as they prepare to celebrate Armistice Day, they all have different goals in mind. The novel is an outstanding representation of contemporary diversity in which religion plays a key role. The first in the Adam Taylor trilogy, it presents readers with the main character after whom the series is named, but also with Kaylah, one of the most impressive female characters I have encountered in recent political thrillers.
Written in a style clearly reminiscent of John Le Carré, Flashbacks shows the intimacy and social preoccupations that have characterised British crime fiction during the 20th century instead of just focusing on the action. With each chapter devoted to each of the main characters, the book inscribes the youth in the thriller tradition breaking away with middle-aged secret agents who have been doing their jobs for decades. Instead, Hall gives Millennials access to the Intelligence Services and reminds society that we can do some good work too.
Flashbacks is a thriller that will keep you in the edge of our seat until the very last page while also posting important questions to the reading audience. In current times, when religious extremism has changed the world as we know it, it is important to keep an open mind and go beyond essentialism believes and alt-right propaganda. The introduction of Ali’s IS ideals as a main character is a significant change in contemporary literature, even though, as a thriller, the book keeps a clear line between good and bad, and there is no space left for moral relativism. But, in a fast-paced thriller like this, there is no time for lucubrations, and that is OK.