Committed is a spy story cum conspiracy thriller with some psychological noir in the mix, and perhaps this isn’t surprising given the author’s background. The British writer Chris Merritt is a former diplomat, a psychologist specialising in PTSD and works as a cyber security consultant. As well has spanning genres, his new novel begins a new series, introducing us to Ellen McGinley.
Ellen is a former CIA agent who stumbles across what she thinks is a terror plot aimed at the heart of America. The problem is Ellen suffers from PTSD, the result of a devastating attack in Paris five years ago. That’s why she left the agency.
Now Ellen is living in Philadelphia with her husband, Congressman Harry Flanagan, and Josh, their six-year-old son. The nightmare of Paris is sinking into the past until one evening at a political function with Harry, Ellen slips out for some air. She overhears two men talking about the Keystone Boys being set for the big one, saying that there will be more graves than COVID.
Ellen can’t identify them but feels this is real. She shares her suspicions with the authorities, no one is listening… or are they?
A week later, en route to a meeting with terrorism expert and friend Walter, Ellen is followed. When her shadow realises he’s been rumbled he attacks, and with a neat move Ellen disarms him. The police arrive, but Ellen is the one they arrest. At the police station she’s interrogated by Homeland Security, not the cops. Ellen doesn’t want to share but she’s forced to fill in the sceptical Detective Brennan. When he checks with the CIA, the agency denies any knowledge of Ellen.
By the end of the night Ellen is in a secure ward in Norristown mental hospital. Committed. She’s already getting on the wrong side of the senior nurse – think Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and you won’t be far wrong. Is it just Ellen’s bad luck, or has someone manipulated events to get her out of the way? One thing is clear – she has to get out. Her husband seems to accept what the doctors say and it’s all taking too long. The toughest patient/inmate hates her and while one of the doctors seems sympathetic the boss couldn’t care less.
Meanwhile, in Clarion, Pennsylvania, the five Keystone Boys are busy plotting. Peter Logan is there because his army veteran brother, Mitch, vouches for him, then there’s Leanne, Randy and Sherman. Mitch has access to explosives and the crew are in training for the big day. For them, 6 January didn’t go far enough, Wako was a betrayal, the Unabomber is a hero and the whole vaccine thing is a conspiracy. That’s not all – a small cabal in Washington DC is really pulling the strings.
Ellen has just under a week to escape and find the target in order to avoid an unprecedented attack on US soil. They don’t know it, but the conspirators will have to up their game.
This is almost a two-part novel. The first half focuses on Ellen’s battles to be believed and to get out of the mental hospital. This is the most enjoyable and empathic section of the book. We are with Ellen all the way – she’s a fascinating character, not just because of her complex past but her spirit and sense of right and wrong. What happened in Paris is explored and that gives us an insight into Ellen’s state of mind. She has her own doubts, and the psychological portrait of her feels authentic. This augurs well for the future of this series.
The terror plot isn’t well developed during Ellen’s time inside. It seems plausible but perhaps it should have been played up more in order to have a greater impact after she has escaped. The Washington cabal is touched on lightly, which keeps them mysterious and intriguing to the reader. When the storylines merge, it’s to great effect and the ticking clock adds to the excitement of this pacy thriller. By this point, both those who enjoy action and those who like psychological drama will be fully on board.
There are well rounded good guys and bad guys and a couple of wolves in sheep’s clothing to add spice. It’s all fast and fun and not one you want to put down for fear of missing out on what comes next. Action novels need more rounded heroes these days and Merritt provides this in Ellen. Given the combination of thriller and psychological drama this is a smooth and comfortable read. Committed won’t disappoint.
For a different take on a woman struggling to be believed see The Girl in the Eagle’s Talons by Karin Smirnoff.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars