#BookReview The Milan Contract by Stephen Franks

International espionage, the criminal underworld, and political corruption send Lieutenant Raphael Conza on a complex trail that leads to 1980s, Germany.

A few seconds later, it was all over.

Milan Contract

In the brief instant it took the .22 bullet to effortlessly drill a neat hole in Lukas Stolz’s forehead, he relived the summer storms of his childhood. He was standing on a bridge with his parents, balls of lightning bouncing off the river and rolling towards him. His mother’s lips were moving but her words were drowned out by thunderous drums so deep he could feel the wooden boards shift beneath his feet. The bridge collapsed and he was falling. His father turned away as Lukas Stolz felt himself slipping below the cold, dark water.

The second and third bullets were not necessary.” (Milan Contract)

Lukas Stolz is murdered in broad daylight, the assumption that it was a mugging gone wrong. Lieutenant Raphael Conza investigates the killing leading him to suspect it might be mob related; and a potential wrong identity, right place, wrong time kind of situation. As he continues to investigate, thugs roam the streets looking for those involved, terrorizing witnesses, and using the police to stay one step ahead of Conza.

Pete ‘Salt’ Salterton overlooks the crime scene. He assumes he was the intended target, and knows just the right men for the job to exact revenge.

Amadi Abebe and Nyala, the father and daughter working in a bakery find themselves front and center of a murder recklessly carried out the on the streets of Milan. Unwittingly closely connected to those involved, Nyala’s eye witness account puts her in the line of sight of killers.

Jamilla, an Ethiopian immigrant finds herself in a dangerous situation when her disabled husband becomes involved in nefarious dealings. Her eldest son Kadin struggles to protect his family from his abusive father, and has to sacrifice his own morals to protect his family.

Kadin is forced to face the stark and brutal reality that his life has changed forever, his only salvation is to trust an unlikely ally.

The elusive Salterton and his ‘employees’ are one step ahead of Conza to also discover who the killer is, and who he was actually after. 

Throughout the story, it flashes back to the 1980s where Lukas Stolz is in the midst of a revolution in Germany.

More bodies pile up to try to ascertain who was behind the initial death and why. Cover ups and legal wrangling expose the most vulnerable, and those involved seem untouchable.

Conza, along with some fellow police and an English barrister slowly unravel the terrible truth, and Conza must put himself in danger to bring the guilty to justice.

My Review.

I immediately got thrown into the violent world of international espionage. The author straight away creates a secretive world where anyone and anywhere can be targeted and killed.

The character’s POV seamlessly interweave throughout the story. Each character builds onto the next.

The main focus seems to be on Kadin and Conza. With the other characters leading an interesting supporting cast.  The author provides an array of diverse characters to add to the plot, building and progressing to draw you into the story of murder and the elusive ‘why’. 

The character’s backstories provide a mix of a psychological drama. Lukas’ story utilises the brutal history of Germany to paint a picture of a complex character that triggered off all the events of the story.

Conza is taken from character to character to unravel why a man was killed. It is easy to get drawn into this story that is not as clear cut as it might first appear. Conza’s character is likeable with a comedic flair. His character starts off as a tired detective just wanting to solve a case,  to a detective witnesses can trust, travelling to Germany that connects to his case, and finally to him deciding he cannot stand by and let murderers go.

Although there are a lot of characters, I do not feel that they bog down the story, instead they are used effectively to enhance the events, lending to the suspense. No character feels superfluous. Each has their place even if they only appear in a short capacity.

Half way through and you still feel there is just that missing piece. The author has written a good plot with suspense built up through all the unknowns and multiple players. Data encryption, weapons technology, and unintended targets all add to the next layer of this convoluted tale of spying, the criminal underworld, and revenge spanning across several continents.

It is refreshing to come across an author that knows how to balance suspense, progression of characters and plot, realism without bogging down the story, and great character redemption arcs that display the diverse nature of a person. 

The short chapters increase the pace, clearly defining the different POVs, days, events and locations.

I was impressed how well he established all these characters. The plot starts with a murder, evolving into story of corruption, the criminal underworld, and the impact of a Stasi informer.

Although there is not a lot of action or violence, the way the plot is built does not need it. I was drawn in more by the research, or perhaps even personal knowledge of the underlying themes, and the red herrings that kept taking me from one direction to another. It is not just about the ‘who’, the main focus and climax is the ‘why’.  Even closer to the end, Conza knows, but doesn’t let you in on it until the final moment.

Refreshingly, this book fits perfectly into the genre of mystery/ crime. Simply written, not an overly complicated plot, clearly outlined and solved. I liked how he wrote the epilogue. A great way to sum up all the characters.

I would recommend this book to lovers of international mystery. Those that enjoy a character-driven story, flashbacks that provide more detail, and a bit of history on the revolution in Germany in the 1980s.

4/5 stars

Thank you to the author, Stephen Franks for gifting me a copy.

Published by sharlene25

Sharlene Almond is the author of the genre-bending Annabella Cordova series, and a New Zealand travel book Journey in little Paradise. She has written a range of health, writing and body language articles; contributing as a guest writer on other blogs. Over the last ten years, Sharlene has attained qualifications in Body Language, Criminology, Journalism, Editing, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Pet Care, and Animal Behaviour. While setting up an online nutritional business, she is studying to specialize in Medicinal Cannabis and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sharlene is also currently editing her second Annabella Cordova novel, with two others in the works. To support her online business, Sharlene sends out a trimonthly newsletter covering health, body language, writing, and even articles centered on health topics for your pet.

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