Operation Bluebird by Harry Old

Operation Bluebird by author Harry Old is a gritty undercover crime thriller that explores the dangers of losing yourself in a false existence.

Contemporary independent author Harry Old has pulled out all the stops with Operation Bluebird, her third novel. It is likely to establish her as an accomplished crime writer given that it displays a great command over the genre that belies her young age of 28. After all, it takes some strong writing chops to integrate a compelling, yet not clichéd, love story inside a gripping page-turner of a thriller.

The premise centres on protagonist Carrie, a young and ambitious cop who goes undercover to investigate a criminal family run by Mr Park. A vivid scene early on is when Carrie “hugs her case file to her chest like a treasured possession”. She loves being trusted and stretched at work. But Carrie, as we come to learn, is plagued by flaws in her character that will have tragic consequences.

We first meet her in the story just after she has been dragged out of the Thames, waking up in a hospital bed and demanding drink. But then the narrative arc jumps back in time to explore what has led her there. It starts with her posing as a dancer at the Paradise Casino in London in order to infiltrate the Park family. Bringing them down will be no mean feat – the boss is a ‘refugee’ from North Korea who has cleverly cultivated a respectable persona and is now loved by the public for his generous donations to various charities.

His life is one of excess and wealth, and immediately Carrie’s imagination is captured by this. An intriguing scene is when she sees Paradise Casino for the first time. She took a look back at the grand entrance of Paradise Casino as she turned right for the bus stop. It loomed over her; ominous and magnificent. As with the countless customers who graced the slots and tables, this place would make her or it would break her – of that she was certain. Along with fellow undercover police officer, David, who poses as her older brother, Carrie soon wins the trust of the Parks – especially the youngest son, Taehwan.

Author Harry Old’s latest novel is an emotional crime thriller not to be missed.

But she soon finds that she needs to do more than just talk and dance in order to gather enough evidence to convict the family.

Soon she begins taking cocaine and partying with Taehwan, and agrees to sleep with one of Taehwan’s brothers, the scheming Soju, in return for helping secure David a job at the casino. Later, she will develop feelings for Taehwan, considered the joke of the Park family for his drug dependency, that lead to a forbidden, and doomed, love affair. Boundaries between right and wrong begin to blur – and a question is implicitly asked: how far do you go for your job, and how far is too far?

For Carrie, in particular, this proves to be a particularly difficult balancing act and she begins to wonder which part of herself is real, and which is fake. In a vivid scene, she questions her actions, worrying she is splitting herself in half. She is using her fake half – Cara, the dancer – as a defence mechanism to keep the real, dull by comparison, world at bay.

No. No, Carrie thought. Feeling feelings wasn’t a right, it was a torture. Nobody deserved to be tortured. She had done the right thing... Her throat tightened and her breathing quickened. She had done the right thing. She had done the right thing. She had done the right thing. As the story progresses, and Carrie gets ever-closer to completing her mission, the harmful impact of leading a double life takes more and more of a toll, not only on her but upon David as well.

As you would expect of a great crime thriller, the plot is packed with unexpected twists and turns to keep you on your toes, while episodes of rage, jealousy, sibling rivalry and backstabbing all leap off the pages.

Beneath the surface, though, is a mature exploration of serious psychological themes surrounding addiction and the fractured self. Through Carrie, and her descent, we see how the allure of the high-life can erode morality and cloud judgment, with potentially fatal repercussions. Operation Bluebird also touches on the theme of loyalty vs the toxic pull of desire and greed.

In many ways, the theme is similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby – author Old’s favourite novel – in the sense that the central character is undone by the belief that they can live a fantasy while staying on the right side of the path.

As the ending approaches, the world becomes only more dark and dangerous. Carrie wants out, but the police still haven’t caught the prize they were after – the dangerous and slippery Mr Park – so she, and David, must go deeper still, perhaps to the point that they might never be able to extract themselves again.

When reading the novel, I had the same sense of immersion. I was gripped by the peril that Carrie and David faced, drawn in by the believable, three-dimensional characters, and hooked on the strong pathos and drama.

Most times, you never know if you’ll strike lucky at a casino, but at least with Operation Bluebird you are guaranteed to come out a winner.

Operation Bluebird by Harry Old is available to buy on Amazon, priced £8.99 in paperback and £2.99 as an eBook. Visit www.harryold.com 

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