I had the pleasure of reading 88° North at the end of last year and was more than happy to share a little snippet of the book with you.
The deadliest kind of assassin is one who is already dying…
As the radiation poisoning that Nadia Laksheva was exposed to in Chernobyl takes hold of her body, she knows she has mere weeks to live. But Salamander, the terrorist who murdered her father and sister has a deadly new plan to ‘make the sky bleed’. Nadia is determined to stop him again, even if it is the last thing she ever does.
The only clue she has are the coordinates 88˚ North, a ridge in the Arctic right above one of the largest oil fields in the world, three thousand metres below the ice. If Salamander takes hold of the oil field, he could change the climate of the whole planet for generations to come…
But can Nadia stop him before her own time runs out?
The gripping third and final novel in J.F. Kirwan’s brilliant spy thriller series. Perfect for fans of Charles Cumming, Mark Dawson and Adam Brookes.
Nadia was led outside by Blue Fan, where four armed men awaited her, which seemed a trifle excessive. The road was quiet, except for the night breeze rustling the trees. Salamander and Jake were gone. The hazy lights of a beach – Repulse Bay, she reckoned, the only true beach on the island – beckoned far below.
Blue Fan walked up to her, close. ‘If you make it to the beach, you live.’
‘Bullshit,’ Nadia said. ‘It will look better for the headlines if I’m shot in the back fleeing the crime scene.’
‘You make it to the beach, you live. Our code, remember?’
‘Salamander doesn’t live by a code. He twists the rules any way that suits him.’
Blue Fan seemed to consider this for a moment. ‘I am not my grandfather. You will have a five second head start.’
Nadia scanned the bushes and trees descending at a thirty-degree angle to the beach, five hundred metres below. Dense vegetation. Almost no light. There would be roads crossing her path every now and again. It was a chance, a slim one. And there was one good reason to try.
She turned back to the four men. Three of them looked eager for the hunt, removing their jackets, revealing heavily-tattooed torsos and arms. The fourth one stood back. At his feet was a long holdall. A sniper rifle. Just in case. There was an open, flat stretch of land between the tree line and Repulse Bay. He’d have a clear shot.
She spoke to Blue Fan. ‘If we meet again, just bear in mind that for me, there are no rules.’
‘Everyone follows rules. Most are not aware of the rules they follow. Now, run, Nadia Laksheva. Run for your life. One.’
Nadia sprinted across the tarmac into thick bush, ducking just in time beneath a low hanging branch. In her head, she counted. Two. She tripped over a root, and tried to roll in the soft earth and leaves, but ended up sliding on her front. Three. She got up and start running again. Four. Taking large, loping strides, each one threatening to twist her ankle on treacherous undergrowth, she thought about alternative tactics: lying low, climbing a tree, breaking off to the left or right. No. The quickest route to life was a straight line. Five. She heard the thrashing of the three men entering the bushes behind her, their footfalls thumping the ground. They probably knew this terrain, and would spread out in case she was stupid enough to hide.
The headlamps of a car rounding a bend lit up the foliage below, and a clearer passage emerged to the left. She bolted for it. Darkness flooded in again, but the route was etched on her retinas, and she ran as fast as she could. Suddenly she spilled onto asphalt, an empty road, her knees buckling as she hit solid terrain. No cars, just the men closing on her. A high-pitched pfft sound to her right announced a bullet from a silenced weapon. She dashed for the other side of the road and dived into the bushes.
She rolled the way she’d been taught, knowing that at this speed, if she hit a tree trunk, she’d be stunned long enough for them to catch her. But she came up on her feet and continued, arms in front of her in a crude triangle, hands in front of her head. A thick branch whacked her ribs, making her spin around, but she kept her balance. She kept her arms up. Protect the head, always. That’s what the Chef had taught her. She heard the whine of a motorcycle, maybe a local on his way home on the road she’d just crossed. But Salamander’s men were already charging through the bushes behind her. She had maybe another four hundred metres to go. She wasn’t going to make it. Not even close.
She kept running.
A second pfft told her they were trying to down her in the woods before she reached the next road, so that became her goal. Just make it to the road. A branch exploded to her left, so she began zigging and zagging. Maybe if she was lucky, she’d hit the road just as the motorbike was coming along it, and maybe … Too many maybe’s.
Just fucking run!
She spotted the white lines of the road through a gap in the trees, and pushed off for one final sprint, but the next bullet found her left shoulder and sent her sprawling forward. Her hands instinctively went down to brace against the fall, and a branch struck her in the face. It felt like she’d been punched on the nose, and she tumbled out of the woods, her head smacking onto the warm tarmac.
Through ringing ears, she heard the motorbike’s engine, the driver braking, crunching through the gears. She crawled towards the white line, her final goal. She touched it. If she was killed here, bleeding, wounded, at least somebody might ask why a kill shot had been necessary. A seed of doubt before the investigation was closed. She imagined the headline. Russian assassin-bitch gets what she deserves.
Shoes skidded to a halt in the dirt. The men didn’t venture onto the road. Of course, three men chasing an unarmed, wounded woman would look suspicious. They’d either have to leave her, or kill the motorcyclist if he stopped. She heard the crackle of static followed by a low, urgent voice. One of the men was asking Blue Fan what to do.
The motorbike was slowing. She regretted it. An innocent passer-by was going to be killed.
The men stepped out into the road, fanning around her. She looked up into the glare of the headlamp, unable to see the rider, the motorbike’s engine humming calmly.
There are a few stops left on the tour but be sure to go back and see what the rest of the tour has to offer…
J.F. Kirwan is the author of the Nadia Laksheva thriller series for HarperCollins. Having worked in accident investigation and prevention in nuclear, offshore oil and gas and aviation sectors, he uses his experience of how accidents initially build slowly, then race towards a climax, to plot his novels. An instructor in both scuba diving and martial arts, he travels extensively all over the world, and loves to set his novels in exotic locations. He is also an insomniac who writes in the dead of night. His favourite authors include Lee Child, David Baldacci and Andy McNab.
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