Review: Neon Prey by John Sandford

neon-prey-9781471184383_lgRelentlessly formulaic, this is assembly-line stuff from John Sanford. Lucas Davenport remains a strong enough protagonist to keep the pages turning, but it’s starting to feel like the author is phoning it in. Neon Prey is slick, swift, and utterly forgettable. It hits all the right beats, but with an impotence that undermines any tension or compulsivity.

Thing is, there’s enough here to elevate this manhunt beyond routine. The ingredients just seem undercooked. Initially Clayton Deese seems like your run-of-the-mill gun-for-hire criminal. But when he skips bail after job goes wrong, U.S. Marshals start digging deeper into his background and discover Deese is actually a prolific cannibal serial killer, who has gone undetected for years. Enter: Lucas Davenport, whose job is to hunt Deese down and bring him in, or put him down. But for all his supposed menace, Deese never feels terrifying. He’s a sketched villain rather than a fully-formed threat. He’s a bad guy because he does bad, bloody things, that we sometimes see on the page, but it all happens so hurriedly, there’s absolutely no resonance. Sandford has created some truly terrifying villains; Deese is not one of them. A problem when he’s the driving force of the narrative.

Not much of a thriller, not much of a mystery. Sandford has a brilliant ear for dialogue, and it’s the character interactions that make Neon Prey worth sticking with, assuming you like the cut of the author’s jib. Sandford has done better, and hopefully will again. The thirtieth novel in the series is out next year.

ISBN: 9781471184390
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publish Date: 25-Apr-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Marshall’s Law by Ben Sanders

9781760294892.jpgAmerican Blood introduced Marshall Grade, a former NYPD detective, who worked undercover trying to dismantle a particularly vicious crime syndicate, until his cover was blown, and he was forced into Witness Protection. But such was the reach of Marshall’s enemies, he sublet his WITSEC safe-house (much to the chagrin of his handler, Lucas Cohen) in order to circumvent any possible paper trail, and lived under the radar in Albuquerque, until he was forced back into action, and back into the limelight. The result was a stylish, action-packed thriller, which begged for a sequel. And here we have it: Marshall’s Law.

This time round, Sanders’ comparison to Elmore Leonard — John Sanford, too, I think — is more than justified. While Marshall is the titular character, and a hero in the Jack Reacher mould — easy to root for, wholly capable of dismantling any threat without breaking into too much of a sweat — the ensemble cast is intrinsic to this novel’s success. Lucas Cohen makes another appearance — indeed, it’s his attempted kidnap that sparks Marshall’s Law into life, and the question his would-be captors ask: Where’s Marshall?

He’s back in New York, actually — trying to start afresh, still shadowed by his violent past. But he can’t do nothing in the face of a potential threat, which is what he believes the attack on Cohen signifies. So he starts to investigate, and quickly discovers he’s the target of a corrupt businessman named Dexter Vine, who is in debt to some very bad people, and has hired Ludo Coltrane to find Marshall at any cost, who himself brings in Perry Rhode s to assist, whose willingness to be a trigger man can’t overshadow his potential liability to the Vine / Coltrane operation.

Sanders flicks between these characters’ perspectives, building a head of steam, ratcheting up the tension, and bringing the cast together in a wonderfully brutal and bloody climax. Trouble is, there’s not much of a muchness between Cohen, Marshall, Coltrane, Vine and Rhodes. Sure, they’ve diverging desires and backgrounds, but ultimately, they’re boilerplate tough guys. There’s nothing empathic about any of them, or anything particularly quirky or offbeat. That was Leonard’s mastery: taking a formula and embellishing it with his trademark zaniness and humour.

Bullet-holes and body-blows abound in Marshall’s Law. It’s a tightly-constructed, stylish and effective thriller, which confirms Ben Sanders as one of the new generation of thriller writers to watch.

ISBN: 9781760294892
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Jan-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: American Blood by Ben Sanders

American BloodAcclaimed New Zealand author Ben Sanders makes his U.S. debut with American Blood, a stylish, action-packed thriller that blends the signature elements of Elmore Leonard and Lee Child, and introduces readers to a protagonist daring to take up Jack Reacher’s mantle as the genre’s premier butt-kicker. With film rights sold to Warner Bros, and Bradley Cooper attached to play Marshall Grade, few novels have been as hyped up pre-release as American Blood.

Marshall Grade is a former NYPD detective who worked undercover trying to dismantle a particularly vicious crime syndicate until his cover was blown, and he was forced into Witness Protection. Now living under the radar in Albuquerque, Marshall lives under the radar, going as far as to sublet his WITSEC safe-house to a lower-tier criminal in order to circumvent any possible paper trail. Not that his hander, marshal Lucas Cohen, seems to mind Marshall’s exploits, so long as his charge stays out of the limelight and out of trouble. But trouble has a way of finding Marshall – or rather, he has a way of finding it – because when he leans of the disappearance of Alyce Ray, a woman he doesn’t know, but who who reminds him of someone from his past, Marshall makes it his mission to find her. In doing so, he antagonizes a local group of thugs who are perhaps more capable than he anticipated. Even worse, they’re not the only ones gunning for him: Marshall’s past comes back to haunt him in the shape of the cold and twisted professional killer known as the Dallas Man.

American Blood combines a brisk plot, impactful action scenes, and great dialogue. Once its plot has built up its momentum, it’s unstoppable – a real page-turner. Before that, readers will need to justify Marshall’s motives in their own minds, because the reasons Sanders provides are paper-thin. The story revolves around the disappearance of Alyce Ray – but this is a woman who means nothing to Marshall besides reminding him of a woman from his past. There is no real personal connection; and while Jack Reacher has frequently gotten involved in the search for people’s he’s never met, his reasons for doing so have always felt more justifiable than what’s offered here. It’s a slight blotch on otherwise gritty, fast-moving thriller, and a successful launch of a new series character.

Chapter-by-chapter Ben Sanders shifts between various character perspectives, always propelling the narrative forward, stamping forks and roadblocks in their paths. American Blood is the kind of thriller easily devoured in a single sitting, and its delicious final chapter twist will leave readers desperate for its sequel. It’s not necessarily a gasp-worthy moment – in fact, I foresaw it – but it means American Blood will leave its hooks in you, which is what every first novel in a series should accomplish.

THANKS TO ALLEN & UNWIN FOR PROVIDING A REVIEW COPY

ISBN: 9781760291570
Format: Paperback  (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 1-Jan-2016
Country of Publication: Australia