Political thrillers, when done well, are the perfect escapist literary. As a far of political thrillers who’s in need of an escape, I was looking forward to checking out Martin Venning’s new novel The Primary Objective.
Primarily set in a small village on the border between Iran and Azerbaijan, the novel charts the work of Peace International, a fictional charity organisation dedicated to providing reconciliation and mediation support to governments and military factions around the world.
Led by London-based Operations Director Edwin Wilson and a mysterious insurgent named only as ‘Dave’, a small team is put together from international experts in warfare, local tour guides, scientists and communications experts. Together, they infiltrate the small town of Ibrahim Sami and work to understand how the region is becoming so prosperous and what the military base on the outskirts of town is doing.
During the initial reconnaissance, the team from Peace International find out that the base is being managed in tandem with the Chinese military. Slowly, the team uncovers a lot of information about skulduggery that could threaten to destabilise the region and cause untold harm to millions. There’s a lot at stake, and the team has to work hard to understand the issues they face and to work together to stop threats that are coming in from all sides.
The novel switches between the perspective of the team and other players in the drama that unfolds. These include a young shipping magnate who is being used to provide logistics support for an underground organisation and a local man who is supporting Peace International’s work but is deeply concerned about his father’s involvement with the military in his hometown.
By switching through a variety of different perspectives and by moving around the world, Venning keeps the reader interested. From the dismal streets of London to the wilds of small town Iran and the hustle and bustle of Tehran, the plot traverses the globe and means that there’s never any shortage of action and adventure. As such, the novel lives up to its name- everyone’s ‘Primary Objective’ is different, so we see a variety of perspectives.
While this does serve to keep the reader entertained and the plot moving forward, the author’s constant chopping and changing does make The Primary Objective harder to follow than it needs to be. Also, as each chapter is from a different character’s perspective, and in some cases, the perspective switches even within paragraphs, readers aren’t able to get attached to any one character or storyline.
Instead, we’re constantly seeing the action from a different point of view. This approach does serve to ensure that the reader is never bored when reading this book, but it also makes the action less engaging. With so many characters involved, and with the reader seeing the story from the perspective of almost all of them, it’s hard to get attached to anyone or to care about their fate.
Also, Venning uses a lot of info dumping in his novel; where loads of information is foisted on the reader through a lengthy explanation or piece of explanatory dialogue, rather than being integrated naturally throughout the story. Inserting long explanations makes the text feel very dense and less enjoyable to read, although Venning makes up for that issue with his fast-paced plot and by moving the action around a lot.
As for the characters, while there are too many, and the reader isn’t able to get too attached to them thanks to the almost constantly switching perspectives, they are still intriguing and well crafted. Each character is believable and relatable in some way, even the very unique military individuals that most people don’t encounter on a day-to-day basis.
The character backstories are often dumped on the reader haphazardly, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t slowly become invested in their fates as the novel progresses. Many of the characters give long, rambling depictions of their lives and what has happened to them, but as the action gets more exhilarating and the plot thickens we still get excited to see their fates.
Ultimately, I enjoyed The Primary Objective, but the novel is far from perfect. In the future, I’d be interested in reading some more from Martin Venning, and seeing if his coming works rectify some of the issues I found with this exciting yet somewhat confusing book.