To those who know the score, Robert Ryan is (among other things), quite simply the best writer of World War II-set thrillers at work in the UK today, and such novels as Dying Day were as good as anything in the field. His admirers might have been a touch wary when it became known that he was to be the author of a second series of contemporary thrillers under the name of Tom Neale. But Ryan clearly liked his two separate literary personalities to be very different entities – and there’s no question that he succeeded in that aim. His authority when it comes to evoking a variety of historical eras (notably, as mentioned above, the Second World War) safely verified, other territory beckoned for the author (who is also a Sunday Times journalist). As Empire of Sand demonstrated, Ryan’s interest in history granted him a very wide remit, and the book was in fact a canny riff on the life of TE Lawrence — Lawrence of Arabia, in fact. Ryan’s audacity in taking on a figure as celebrated as Lawrence paid off handsomely, and with subsequent books, Ryan has opened up another flank.
Silver Skin is one of the most thoroughly compelling pieces of fiction that the protean Robert Ryan has created — which is saying something. Starting with a quotation from Sophocles’ Antigone, the novel quickly moves into gear, in media res: we are shown the ruthless interrogation of a prisoner in what appears to be a post-rape situation. In charge of the investigation is tough OSS man Mitchell McAllister, and to both the reader’s surprise — and that of the apparent rapist — we learn that McAllister is recruiting men for a top-secret mission. What follows is pulse-racing stuff, dispatched with the authority we have come to expect from Ryan.
However, the author has yet more up his sleeve, and Black Cross introduces yet another innovation to the Ryan canon — an Irish Basque detective. Needles to say, this concept is bought off with typical skill, and there is a particularly memorable character introduced here, a woman named Paloma — who is already earmarked as being a reader favourite.
But that’s not all. The tireless Ryan apparently has even more up his sleeve. At present, everything is under wraps. One thing is sure, whatever it is: it will be worthy of our attention.