Die Last is Tony Parsons' latest instalment in his DC Max Wolfe detective series, out in paperback and ideal for the last of the August holidays - thsat is, if you are a middle-aged man, looking to escape the mundane, says Grace Keane.
On a snowy February morning in London's Chinatown, a refrigeration lorry is discovered abandoned along the roadside. Inside lie the bodies of 12 women, illegal immigrants whose tragic deaths were the result of hypothermia. Aside from being a human trafficking case, this is a missing persons case - 12 dead bodies remain, but 13 female passports are discovered. DC Max Wolfe must investigate the whereabouts of the 13th woman.
Parsons' hero Max Wolfe begins a hunt for the missing woman, a mission that which will take him into the dark heart of human smuggling. It vividly captures the appeal and the risk involved for both those who pay to be transported, and the 'travel agent' who receives payment. It is a lottery which some people win and some people lose - a concept which is poignant in today's current socio- economic global environment. How far would you go and what would you risk to find somewhere new and call it home?
Max's life is full of exuberant characters; an especially bright daughter, an over-zealous superintendent, a young and attractive work partner and an admiring squire in the force. However, these characters are rather over the top, in both their back-stories and their actions. Take for example the aforementioned Superintendent Whitestone, whose son is blind following an unprovoked attack. More often than not, Whitestone is overly-dramatic and irrational. She flies off the handle in cringe-worthy outbursts. I'm sure this is supposed to convey the depth of her emotional attachment to the case and her characterisation as a 'ball breaker.' Instead it comes across as a rather desperate attempt to make a scene dramatic and add tension.
Our protagonist, however, is not exempt from such cringe-worthy moments either, with classic one-liners such as "So I punched him in the heart". He also has an endless amount of cash, drives a BMW X5, (which is referred to repeatedly) is wonderful with kids and teenagers of all kinds and, of course, is a knight in shining armour for the prostitutes he encounters during his investigations.
Die Last reads like a wanna-be Die Hard film and is aimed at the same target audience - but it is more like Die Hard's not-so-hard-but-if-I-use-the-clichés-I-might-be younger brother. The ending isn't a surprise either, and is easily guessed early on in the 400-page story.
Nonetheless, once you accept the book for what it is you almost begin to enjoy it. It's an indulgent fantasy for middle-aged men where they can escape the mundane and ordinary and imagine themselves a super successful and bad-ass hero.