Review: Exit .45 by Ben Sanders

I feel like Ben Sanders doesn’t get mentioned often enough among the thriller-lit community, but the New Zealander is one of the best in the business when it comes to hard-hitting, trimmed-to-the-bone crime fiction. His latest, Exit .45, is the third in the Marshall Grade series, which reads like a marriage between Lee Child’s Jack Reacher and Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder.

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Review: The Devils You Know by Ben Sanders

Ben Sanders is one the most reliable entertainers in thriller-lit. “American Blood” and “Marshall’s Law” earned him comparisons to some of the genre’s greats: Lee Child, Robert Crais, Elmore Leonard; the gold-class writers of crime fiction and thrillerdom.  But if what came before was Sanders reaching for that high bar, “The Devils You Know” is him setting it. Nobody keeps a story engine churning like this guy. It’s not that the plots themselves are hyper-original; it’s the bravura of his storytelling.

Vincent’s not quite a pacifist, but after more than a decade in covert ops, and the catastrophic ending to his last mission — he was the only one to make it out when the helicopter fairground-twirled to the ground, surviving with two broken legs and a dislocated shoulder — he’s done pulling triggers at the behest of the US government. For anyone, in fact. He’s seen enough conflict for a whole lifetime.

Through a pal, Beauden Ash, he’s landed a contractor gig in Santa Barbara, working as the head of security for a supermarket mogul. Vincent drives Eugene Lamar to breakfast and golf, and fills the time in between surfing, writing his screenplay, and making small talk with Lamar’s daughter, Erin Jones, a pro-war journalist who’s book “Moral War: Failed States, Foreign Interventions,” is causing quite a stir.

A couple things pique Vincent’s Spidey-Sense: Lamar’s home is outfitted with a panic room full of assault rifles, and a revolver rests in the glovebox of his car. It quickly becomes clear he’s embroiled in a business far more dangerous than supermarkets. And inevitably Vincent has to utilise long-dormant skills, as some very deadly people close in on Lamar and his daughter.

Sanders never loses control of his clean, smooth prose or his ability to sketch fully fleshed characters in a few scenes. In “The Devils You Know” he serves up a taut and exiting tale, bristling with action, tinged with well-placed emotional depth, which hurtles forward at a furious pace. Pop fic at its best.

ISBN: 9781760877873
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Pub Date: February 2021
Page Extent: 336
Format: Paperback

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.


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