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The Chameleon Code

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Loved it! 😍

The Chameleon Code is an engaging mystery and a promising start to a new series.

Synopsis

Lisa Gilbert, a gifted Cambridge IT graduate, is abducted in France and taken to St Petersburg where she is held by Vladimir Petsnov, whose company is intent on stealing the code she and her team have developed to take the cyber security of European and NATO satellites to the next level: Project Chameleon.

Jack McGill, a private security consultant, is approached by Lisa’s parents for help and joins their other daughter Emma Gilbert on her trip to France to discover Lisa’s whereabouts. When Emma also disappears, Jack engages the help of a member of the French elite police unit GIGN and together they discover and rescue Emma, but not before Petsnov’s henchmen torture and murder Lisa’s erstwhile duplicitous colleague Felix Sommer..

Following an intervention by the UK and US secret services the trail then takes Jack to Russia. Travelling undercover with the help of MI6, he tracks down the Russian gang to their HQ in Nizhny.

A theme of the novel is the driving force behind Jack McGill: his need for restitution against the criminal world and to protect the victims of that world. It also reflects current real-world concern around the security of satellite communication, defence and monitoring systems.

The Chameleon Code is the first book in Jack McGill thriller series. The story begins with the events leading to Lisa's kidnapping. Lisa is kept in an unknown facility for weeks before meeting Petsnov. Meanwhile, Lisa's parents are worried as they haven't heard from her for over three weeks. They approach Jack McGill, an ex-cop turned security consultant, for help.


Emma, Lisa's younger sister joins Jack in France and together, they go looking for Lisa. Jack soon realizes they are being followed by goons. Lisa's family is under surveillance but Jack does not know why: Lisa was just an ordinary research scientist working in the lab.


The story alternates between France and Russia. The France part of the story is all about stalker goons, Emma's kidnapping, Lisa's shady colleague and Jack requesting the help of his former colleagues in rescuing Emma. Meanwhile, in Russia, Lisa is given an ultimatum - either work for us or see your family die. Lisa is an employee of the ESA and was involved in taking cyber security of the satellites to the next level. Her code was supposed to be impenetrable to hackers. But now she is forced to work to a businessman who wants to use her code for his benefits (illegal activities).


As a first in the series, this book has certainly managed to capture my attention. I really liked the concept of an ex-cop turned security consultant saving the day. The characters are well-portrayed but there is a little scope for improvement here. The suspense was a little low - especially in the second half of the series. Or rather, the tension built up in the first half of the book did not do justice to the way things proceeded in the second half. Some more action in the second half would have made the book a page-turner.


I have a little niggle here. Until 80% through, Jack is planning Lisa's rescue. Instead of revealing the mission plan via talks to the readers, showing it in action would have been better. The ending seemed a little abrupt - too many things happening at once and before you know, The End.


Overall, The Chameleon Code is an engaging mystery. I really liked the story and I am looking forward to reading the next book in this series. 

Reviewed by

A voracious reader who loves books of the genre Crime and Mystery. I also read chick-lit and literary fiction so as to balance all the mysteries I devour.

Synopsis

Lisa Gilbert, a gifted Cambridge IT graduate, is abducted in France and taken to St Petersburg where she is held by Vladimir Petsnov, whose company is intent on stealing the code she and her team have developed to take the cyber security of European and NATO satellites to the next level: Project Chameleon.

Jack McGill, a private security consultant, is approached by Lisa’s parents for help and joins their other daughter Emma Gilbert on her trip to France to discover Lisa’s whereabouts. When Emma also disappears, Jack engages the help of a member of the French elite police unit GIGN and together they discover and rescue Emma, but not before Petsnov’s henchmen torture and murder Lisa’s erstwhile duplicitous colleague Felix Sommer..

Following an intervention by the UK and US secret services the trail then takes Jack to Russia. Travelling undercover with the help of MI6, he tracks down the Russian gang to their HQ in Nizhny.

A theme of the novel is the driving force behind Jack McGill: his need for restitution against the criminal world and to protect the victims of that world. It also reflects current real-world concern around the security of satellite communication, defence and monitoring systems.

Besançon, Eastern France. August 2018.


The four-person extraction team was well prepared. They’d been observing the target for three weeks before getting the order to proceed. She was predictable in her movements. What they knew of her background didn’t indicate that she’d be giving them too much trouble physically. No military or forces background. No special training to worry about.


Even better, she liked to run long, remote trails early in the morning, so she was making it easy for them. Literally running right into their hands. Two behind in the vehicle, two in front to engage. But the order was strictly not to physically hurt her, and no eyes on the take down. Fast, silent and gentle. No suspicions aroused. A precious cargo.


The two couples came down to reception at the hotel at 5am that Sunday morning, dressed for hiking. No staff to worry about apart from Alex, the night manager. The morning team started at 5.30. A nod of recognition and a smile. He was already used to their early starts. They liked to make the most of the day. Routine stuff.


They left their room keys on the counter and smiled at Alex. He looked up and wished them a good day: “Passez une bonne journée messieurs dames”.


“A demain.” See you tomorrow. They took the stairs down to the parking garage.


The team had switched vehicles from their usual rental car to a Renault Traffic van. Two rows of seats and plenty of space in the back. They’d loaded their things the night before and cleaned down the rooms. No trail. The support team would deal with any hotel security footage later from the base in St Petersburg, just a routine hack for them, waiting to press the delete button.


The small backpacks were loaded onto the second row of seats, along with Viktoria and Gregory, and before long they’d left Besançon and picked up the quiet road west for the twenty-minute drive to La Garde. In the back seat, while the rest of the team sat in silent contemplation, Viktoria went through a final check of her equipment.


Chateau de La Garde Estate


Lisa Gilbert slipped on her running gear and made her way out into the courtyard of the chateau to warm up, as she did on most Sunday mornings while the rest of the village was waking up to get ready for weekly mass at St Martin’s, La Garde’s only church.


The two-sided chateau formed an L-shape, with its back to the north and east, so Lisa had to move further across the courtyard to get the morning sun on her face as it cleared the roof of the east wing of the building. Starting with a stretch using a low stone wall at the edge of the yard, she closed her eyes and felt the morning breeze gently warm her face. It was bliss, and she couldn’t help shaking her head in disbelief at how lucky she was to live there.


Henri de Boisson, her landlord and the resident of the rest of the chateau, along with his young family, owned most of the land to the north and east of the village and when she had approached him for advice on running trails he had been enthusiastic in his encouragement to take advantage of the estate, even taking time to pore over his detailed IGN map collection with her.


Although it had been averaging around 25°C most days, Lisa wore full length running pants and had her long dark hair drawn back through a baseball cap. Although there were some paths, she’d also found herself deep in the forest, and the first time she had gone in shorts her legs had come back scratched and stung.


Lisa’s route took her out of the gate of the chateau that emerged onto the quiet main street of the village, left across the bridge over the La Garde brook, and left again to access the road that would take her behind the chateau, down past a small lake, and then into the forests of the estate.


It was rare for her to see anyone at that time, even at the local cafe that was on her right as she jogged gently past, so she was surprised to see the dark grey Renault van pulled over to the side of the laneway at the rear of the chateau. As she passed, she glimpsed a couple in the front, kitted out in distinctively bright walking shirts, seeming to look over a map. Presumably from nearby Besançon or visiting for the weekend from further afield. Nothing like an early start.


Lisa pressed on, effortlessly picking up speed, her stride naturally starting to lengthen as her body warmed up. She ran lightly and naturally, landing on her mid-foot and virtually silent apart from the gentle sound as she used her toes to propel her forwards. The only sound was from the waking birds, dominated by the unmistakable song of a wood pigeon. Occasionally she heard the gentle rustle of leaves as a light breeze caressed the dense forest around her.


The road was a gentle uphill at this point, before it would drop away again down to one of the estate gates, giving access to the fields and forest beyond. As she crested the brow of the hill, she saw two more walkers, in similar gear to the couple in the van, standing at the gate. They were talking in low, urgent voices in a language she couldn’t make out. Maybe Eastern European. Both carrying small backpacks. They suddenly looked up as they became aware of her drawing closer. Lisa assumed they had come from the same van and volunteered to check out where the road went whilst the others got ready. Easy to lose your bearings on these small lanes, as she knew from experience. Maybe she could help.


Lisa slowed down to a walk as she approached and gave the couple her best helpful smile. The girl smiled back, her boyfriend looking on. Grumpy. So many people fell out over directions. Lisa decided she’d use English as the couple clearly weren’t local.


“Can I help you?” she asked. “Are you lost?”


The girl offered her hand, smiling. “I’m Vicky.” She spoke clearly with only the hint of an accent. “We didn’t expect to meet anyone out here at this time. Especially speaking English! So lucky – we were just checking where the road went while our friends back in the van argued over the map! Now the answer is nowhere it seems.”


Lisa smiled. “Nowhere is about right. Unless you’re looking to explore the forest but it’s mostly private land.”


“You see Greg?” said Vicky as she turned to her companion. “It’s the wrong road. Anyway, here come the others”.


Lisa turned to see the van coming slowly over the crest of the road. The vehicle pulled up in the narrow lane, both doors opened, and the other couple got out and came towards the little group.


As Lisa went to introduce herself, she sensed Greg and Vicky close behind her, hopefully ready to make the introductions. She hoped it wouldn’t take long; she had just got warmed up, and a five-minute delay meant starting all over again. As she reached out and took the girl’s hand to shake, she felt Greg take a gentle but firm grip of her left arm from behind her.


Suddenly feeling claustrophobic and hemmed in, Lisa panicked and tried to pull her right hand away from the girl opposite her, but it was in a firm grip. Now she was scared but as she was about to yell out a large hand came from behind and clamped over her mouth.


Her reflexes kicking in, Lisa instinctively leaned and tried to push herself forwards, with half a plan to escape the grip from behind and somehow take down the girl in front of her. She almost managed it too, twisting away from Greg and then quickly using both hands to pull the girl’s arm nearly out of its socket. But her intended escape route over the gate was blocked and she ran straight into the second male of the group. The equivalent of a brick wall.


Before she could plan her next move, she felt a cold needle on her neck, and was overcome suddenly with drowsiness and lethargy. As she felt herself go limp, she heard the low, alien voices of the group of strangers. Then everything was dark. 

About the author

John Mitchell took up writing following a long career in Telecoms that has taken him around the world. Now based in South West London, he spends his time on the occasional Telecoms consulting project, in between running around the Borough and thinking of new problems for Jack McGill to solve. view profile

Published on June 24, 2020

Published by

80000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Thriller & Suspense

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