REVIEW: Wicked Game by Matt Johnson (Robert Finlay #1)

Series: Robert Finlay

Book Number: 1

Read this book for: thriller, military and spy thriller, terrorist plots, bombing plots, detectives in trouble, now-it’s-personal story

Quick Review: Written by a man who has actually been in the job, this well-thought-out and interesting page-turner is a worthy thriller to pick up.


2001 – Robert Finlay, an aging police officer, is looking forward to his transfer back to uniform policing in London from the Royalty Protection Squad, which will allow him to spend more time with his new family. But his traumatic and carefully concealed past threatens to ruin this new life when a policeman is killed by a bomb blast and a second is gunned down in his own driveway. Both had been former army colleagues from Finlay’s SAS regiment. Finlay realizes his own life is in danger, and ends up in multi-agency cat-and-mouse game to protect himself – and his family – from the dangers returning from his past.

WICKED GAME is the first in a series of novels about Robert Finlay, an ex-SAS solider and Royalty Protection officer that has moved to regular uniform policing with the London Met in order to lead a calmer life with his young daughter and wife, Jenny. Combining first-hand experience with interesting characters and a fast-paced plot, WICKED GAME is a debut novel that is not to be missed.

Matt Johnson’s first novel was born out of his own difficult personal circumstances. Himself a Metropolitan Police officer and soldier, Johnson attended several bombings and shootings over the course of his career that eventually took their toll and resulted in his discharge from the force with PTSD. Encouraged by his therapist to write about his experiences, Johnson wove many of them into a work of fiction that would become WICKED GAME.

Besides demonstrating Johnson’s obvious personal courage – both in the line of duty and in using these memories in a novel as catharsis – these experiences help to make WICKED GAME intensely real. Details are sharp and precise, from first-hand accounts of firefights and explosions to the bureaucratic entanglements that plague such operations. The latter play heavily into a fast-paced and literally explosive plot that twists and turns as you try to guess who is behind the violence, despite having a direct insight through several chapters written from some of the terrorists’ points of view. The very real frustration and difficulty is that no one of the characters actually can see the whole picture, which makes the novel both realistic and extremely difficult to put down.

And the characters themselves are so interesting. While we don’t get to see a lot of the motivations behind some of the terrorists’ actions, Finlay’s are so very relatable. He has some very real flaws and it’s interesting to see how they come into play. Deserving of mention as special favourite characters of mine are Kevin Jones, old friend and fellow ex-SAS soldier, and Jenny Finlay, Robert’s wife. Jenny is an easy character to underestimate, but the strength she shows ultimately surprises everyone – I think even Robert!

Particularly for a new novelist, Johnson writes very engagingly and captivatingly. There were several flashback sequences that were very good, and he definitely understands how to keep a reader turning pages, desperate to find out what will happen next.

If you’re a thriller fan, and military or spy thrillers interest you, WICKED GAME is a more-than-worthy addition to your reading list! I am already looking forward to the next installment, DEADLY GAME, due out shortly.

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