Book Review: Simon Mayo’s “Knife Edge”

Sitting on my shelf for a while now, Knife Edge was one of those books I kind of randomly selected on a whim, not having read anything from Simon Mayo in the past, nor heard any book reviews of his previous releases. I read the blurb and was intrigued enough to take it home and give it a go… I’ll cut to the chase: I really didn’t enjoy this one, and it was struggle to see it through to the end. To be fair to Mayo, there were elements to the tale that I did think were clever, and the storyline did manage to revive itself towards the end, but it was too little too late for my opinion on the book, sadly.

The Plot…

Prefacing the whole plot on only the first two pages were the brutal murders of seven journalists in various locations in London – throats slashed, bodies stabbed, knives twisted. Obviously, this was a shocking start, and adrenaline was high as the rest of the IPS journalism teams heard the news come through. Despite its merits, the effect of killing off 7 unknown characters that early on into the story was that – although the rest of the plot would partial centre around those lives – I really didn’t care about them. I didn’t have a chance to know them, and Mayo seemed to put minimal effort into painting a picture of their lives in retrospect after their deaths. Moreover, with such a strong, thrilling start, it was essentially doomed to descent into monotony. Which it did.

From the first chapter right through to around page 200, I was fighting the urge to put it back on the shelf, unread, and to start something else with my precious free time after work. Fortunately for this book, my tightly-wound personality would never allow me the luxury of abandoning the book half-read; I had to finish what I started. It wasn’t enjoyable for me, unfortunately – but I will say there were bits I appreciated. The story – like so many I’ve read recently – followed different perspectives with each chapter, one of which was an individual the reader only knows as ‘the student’. Both the character development and the unravelling of hidden depths of his personal story were the only aspects of this book that I did actually love. Slowly with each chapter that shadowed his viewpoint, the reader learnt more about him: he began as a sinister silhouette in the dark, unknown and dangerous, but there was much more to his character, and I enjoyed the progression that avenue of the storyline took.

Towards the end – after roughly page 200 – the previous desperate urge to abandon ship did go away for a while. Although I thought the way the ending was tied together was messy and hard to follow (another one where I could have done with taking some notes to keep track of characters), it made for slightly easier reading. With a bitter man-hunt, imminent terror threats, and more bodies showing up – this time of characters you actually had time to care about – the tensions were high, and the climax of the story right at the end was engaging, even if the subsequent resolutions were disappointing. It was evident that Mayo had tried to throw a few plot twists in at the end for dramatic effect – some of which were mildly interesting – but for the most part they just made me slightly raise my eyebrows. If I think about certain parts of the story in detail, I’m only left with cynical disbelief and lots of questions unanswered – and not in a positive, spellbound way; in a frustrated, this-doesn’t-make-complete-sense-to-me way.

The Characters…

The main protagonist was IPS journalist, Famie Madden, who really didn’t have a strong character in my opinion. The bond she had with her colleagues and daughter was admirable, and it was clear from her background in reporting on far-left extremist activity in the darkest areas of the world that she was brave and determined, but this bravery in the context of our plot only translated as stupidity for me. Many decisions she made that presumably were intended to be courageous, I just found questionable and a little arrogant.  Her daughter – Charlie – on the other hand, was really likeable. With a vivid character description, a strong-willed personality, and at least some intelligence, if she weren’t in the story taking the lead, her Mum almost certainly would have been brown bread.

My favourite character – rather predictably from what I’ve previously mentioned – was ‘the student’, who gains his identity – which I won’t disclose for spoiler’s sake – throughout the course of the novel. When his character was first introduced, I really couldn’t have cared less: it was already at a rather slow bit of the book, and a random, unknown face being cryptically thrown in wasn’t turning it around for me, but as I persisted with the story, he became an integral part of the whole plot, and the character I rooted for the most. Going from not giving a damn about him, to a mild intrigue, to finally him being my favourite character, with me caring about his safety the most in the climax of the novel, was an enjoyable journey to go on, and shows a clever crafting of character from Mayo. Maybe not so much with the other characters.

Would I recommend?

I think it’s fairly obviously I’m not going to recommend this book; my thoughts so far have been pretty revealing. But, as usual, I will say that this has just been my opinion – it does not mean that others would not thoroughly enjoy this book! As I’ve discussed, there were elements of the story that were entertaining, and perhaps if I had been in a different mood, and had kept notes throughout the whole read to refer back to, I would have enjoyed it maybe a little more. But I doubt it.

Still, if you’re into crime ‘thrillers’, particularly those centring around journalism and themes of terror attacks and conspiracy, maybe you should give it a go and see if you feel differently than me!

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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