A thrilling and addictive teen read based on an impressively original concept.
Payback are a social media sensation – a group of five young people who steal expensive, privileged objects from the rich and give the money they make to the poor and needy. The group have thousands of followers but, despite their regular internet films, no-one knows their true identity (they wear fox masks in every heist). Sixteen year old Thomas Rendell is one of Payback’s biggest fans and can’t believe his luck when his summer job as a bellboy at the swanky Midland Hotel brings him face to face with the Payback team. It’s an opportunity he’s determined to make the most of. However, before long, he will begin to question whether everyone in Payback is exactly who they claim to be. He’s also about to learn the real risks, and life and death consequences, of getting caught up with this unusual group.
A modern Robin Hood group with an internet following – this is a wonderful larger than life concept that made me eager to read M A Griffin’s latest novel. I did, however, wonder whether I would find a story based on this premise entirely believable. I needn’t have worried: it is all remarkable credible. We easily accept the characters and set up and the description of the practicalities of the group’s exploits are detailed and thought through leaving no obvious issues. (Although one particular section when Payback target a set of valuable pearls at a charity dinner reminded me of the Oceans films, particularly the most recent Oceans 8).
Like these successful movies, Payback immediately draws us in with a thrilling and action-packed opening: we meet Tom as he takes part in his first job with the Payback team – stealing two Jaguar cars from a shopping centre. From here, we skip back in time to learn how Tom came to join Payback and the action is no less dramatic. Indeed, the fast-paced action continues at a relentless pace making the book hard to put down. (I read it cover to cover in just two sittings).
The twists and turns of the cleverly crafted plot are complimented by strong characterisation, including our viewpoint character, Tom, our gang-leader, Gedge, and our evil antagonist, the ruthless and manipulative Ruiz. Written in first person, Tom is a likable character and an atypical action hero. His backstory is skilfully fed into the story without slowing the plot and I particularly enjoyed the throwaway actions that reveal his personality – my favourite undoubtedly being the circuits Tom does belly-surfing the laundry trolley on the top floor or the Midland Hotel in constant competition to beat his personal best.
I was equally impressed by the original way Tom’s family are quickly dispatched from the storyline – his mum is dead, his workaholic father is away on a business trip while his older brother, who is supposed to be keeping an eye on Tom, takes off on holiday with his latest girlfriend. Indeed, this set up with his brother allows for some wonderful nerve-wracking moments when his brother phones Tom to check up on him, almost always at the most inconvenient time.
If you enjoyed this, you might want to check out Lifers by M A Griffin. Alternatively, if you’re looking for another teen thriller with a political twist why not try Riot by Sarah Mussi or Night of the Party by Tracey Matthias.
Publication date: July 2018
Publisher: Chicken House
Author: M A Griffin