The Scholar Of Extortion by Reg Gadney Faber and Faber Reg Gadney is a writer of thrillers, or at least he used to be. His 11 previous novels include passable efforts and in this, his latest offering, he shows he is still a competent draughtsman. The story flows at a reasonable, almost sensible pace. The only trouble is that it is about as thrilling as a cold shower in an igloo. The pity is that the subject is an excellent one: marine terrorism in international waters. It presents a rich vein of possibilities for intrigue, excitement and suspense, and setting most of the action in Asia adds an oriental twist designed to provide romance for western readers. Gadney begins in Hong Kong, where the villain of the piece, Klaas Pieter Terajima, lures an experienced policeman, Winston Lim, to his death. Hong Kong readers may groan to hear that while it was the result of a dramatic helicopter accident as police tried to catch criminals, it all happened during a typhoon. The feeling that Gadney's research is not thorough is confirmed throughout the book as we visit restaurants that have been closed for years. Terajima is a scholar of extortion because he extinguishes his victims courtesy of his anaesthetic skills - and his patients never wake. While he is obviously twisted, Terajima's menace as a cruel, heartless and ambitious master criminal mostly flounders in cliche and exaggeration. His protagonist is the unlikely Alan Rosslyn, a former Hong Kong cop turned private investigator in London who gets involved in dubious, even fantastic coincidences. He was Lim's friend and colleague in Hong Kong and he is also being paid to protect one of Terajima's partners in crime. When Rosslyn is also tasked with examining the security of a cargo ship passing through the dangerous Malacca Straits en route to Singapore, he takes his beautiful girlfriend into a situation charged with as much emotion as physical danger. Several two-dimensional characters parade throughout, including feckless foreign agents in Hong Kong, shady British diplomats and secret service personnel. And the dialogue often sounds like something out of a bad gangster movie. To be fair, several passages raise the book's game and some of the information about marine terrorism is of interest. The involvement of factions within the Chinese authorities beg intriguing questions. Gadney has a flair for description and some of the strongest sections of the book take place in the remote locations he brings to life. The short chapters are easy to read, and while the convention of using allegedly sworn statements from Rosslyn does not really work, at least it adds variety. The book does provide a reasonable impression of the complexity of the issues surrounding international terrorism. While Gadney writes of the usual corruption, political manoeuvring and official duplicity, he makes it hard to judge the moral positions of the players. Disregard the use of Victoria Harbour on the cover - readers looking for the definitive Asian novel will need to look elsewhere. Those looking for a powerful cocktail of tension, veracity and believable thrills also will be disappointed. But anybody seeking an undemanding holiday read with breathless action covering several continents might just enjoy the effortless ride.