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Book Review-“Night Lords: The Omnibus”

November 27, 2016 Leave a comment

nightlords-omni-thumbIt’s interesting that fans of Games Workshop/Black Library’s Warhammer 40,000 universe tend to align behind the two sides in the “Horus Heresy,” the great galactic civil war that set up the status quo of the universe. So you have fans of the Emperor of Mankind and his loyalist Space Marines and forces and you have fans who root for the Space Marines who turned traitor and aligned with the forces of Chaos. Both sides have noble and ugly qualities based on your perspective, but I tend to identify and root for the Loyalist Imperium of Man forces. I tend to see them as more heroic and the Chaos forces as more petty and brutal.

So when it comes to my 40K reading I’ve tended to stick with novels that focus more on Loyalist Space Marines and humans aligned with forces like the Imperial Guard and the Inquisition. However I do remain a fan of crime fiction, a genre that I think provides a more nuanced version of morality and humanity by showing the best people at their worst, and the worst people at their best.

On top of that I always found the warriors of the Night Lords Space Marines Legion to be very cool looking and kind of fascinating. Essentially they’re a warrior culture that was born when their founder, the godlike Primarch known as Conrad Kurze used his power and cunning to violently strike back at the criminal gangs that had taken control of the night shrouded world known as Nostromo. So essentially imagine if someone with the physical power of Hercules took up the Punisher’s lethal approach to crime fighting and used Batman’s tactics of spreading fear and cunning subterfuge. That’s the ideas they were founded on, but many of the Legion’s recruits were men with a love of violence. So some could even be described as the Joker if he used Batman’s methods.

So, intrigued by those ideas I looked into giving the fiction of that particular Traitor Legion a chance. “Night Lords: The Omnibus” by Aaron Dembski-Bowden, which contains adb-pichis novel trilogy “Soul Hunter,” “Blood Reaver,” and “Void Stalker” as well as three short stories featuring the members of the Tenth Company war band. These stories appeared to be widely loved by a variety of readers so I picked up and read “Night Lords: The Omnibus” to see if it lived up to the hype surrounding it. I’m happy to report that it does. Dembski-Bowden’s stories are fantastic and deserved to be mentioned in the same company as Dan Abnett’s Eisenhorn stories, which are some of the best Black Library stories ever (IMO), and they made me a fan of the 40K setting.

The reason why “Night Lords: The Omnibus” is so good is the fantastic job Dembski-Bowden does with his cast of characters. It’s comparable to great character work in TV series like “The Shield” or movies like Rob Zombie’s, “The Devil’s Rejects” where you’re given these deplorable, violent individuals and you suddenly find yourself rooting for them in spite of the awful acts they commit. Dembski-Bowden does not let you forget the awfulness the Night Lords are capable of, in fact there are several powerful moments where he sort of kicks the chair out from under you and reminds you these guys are killers and vicious torturers, but he also shows the nobility they’re capable of. The Night Lords are also often the underdogs against more powerful and arguably even more twisted forces in several stories. So it’s very easy to root for them as they devise and enact cunning and daring plans to escape, trick, or take down much tougher enemies.

The chief character of the stories in “Night Lords: The Omnibus” is Talos Valcoran, a Space Marine who was given the moniker “Soul Hunter” by his Primarch, a nickname he despises. He is also known as the Great Prophet of the Night Lords because of the often crippling prophetic visions he receives. What make Talos, especially interesting to me though is that ultimately he’s a tragic figure. When we first meet him he’s a very noble individual trying to stay above the moral and supernatural corruption that plagues the Night Lords in the aftermath of the Horus Heresy, a war that he and his fellow Legionaries committed to fighting thousands of years ago. Now millennia later they remain committed to fighting what seems like an unwinnable war against the forces of the Imperium of Man, because if they give up what kind of worth would their several thousand years of existence have?

Surrounding Talos are the equally flawed and fascinating members of his combat squad, First Claw. What I love about these guys is that they don’t really like each other, but they would and do kill to protect each other. They’re a very dysfunctional band of brothers. So they’re fun and easy to root for and when their personal demons lead them into conflict against each other it makes for some powerful and haunting scenes.

Over the course of “Night Lords: The Omnibus’” three novels and three short stories Dembski-Bowden has the members of First Squad interact with and battle an eclectic cast of allies, adversaries, and some characters who are both. Some of the ones I found especially intriguing were the mutated and monstrous members of the Night Lords Raptor division, the two human slaves Talos employs, and the members of the alien race known as the Eldar. Personally I had written the Eldar off as characters that didn’t really resonate with me, but in one of the novels of t“Night Lords: The Omnibus” there’s an especially fascinating Eldar antagonist who tests the mettle of First Claw.

What makes Dembski-Bowden’s character work even more resonant, haunting, and powerful is that the choices his characters make have very real consequences. Over the course of “Night Lords: The Omnibus” characters I liked and identified with got injured and some even died. So the stories had a thrilling almost anything can happen vibe to them.

It’s hard to pick which of the stories in “Night Lords: The Omnibus” is my favorite because all are fun, powerful and exciting. Plus they’re a diverse bunch of tales that feature a wide variety of locales and exciting action. If pressed though I’d have to say the second and third Novels were the ones I enjoyed the most. In the second novel “Blood Reaver” you get to see Talos and company do what they do best as they engage in a daring and cunning assault against rival Space Marines and then pull off a cunning heist. In the third novel, “Void Stalker” you get a fantastic climax that provides a ton of fulfilling and powerful payout to the storylines from the other books and short stories.

If you’re a 40K fan who has yet to read “Night Lords: The Omnibus” yet you need to remedy that. It’s a fantastic series of stories and I look forward to reading more of Demski-Bowden’s 40K work, especially his Horus Heresy novel, “The Last Heretic,” which focuses on the Word Bearers Space Marine Legion since I think they’re some of 40K’s best/worst villains.

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Book Review: The Autobiography of James T. Kirk: The Story of Starfleet’s Greatest Captain by David Goodman

February 18, 2016 Leave a comment

Kirk bioWhen I was a growing up Saturday night for me was all about two wondrous television programs “The Muppet Show” and reruns of the original “Star Trek” series. The former probably helped shaped my sense of humor and wonder the latter my sense of adventure and heroism. Indeed several years later it was Star Trek that introduced me to the fact that heroism had a cost when I sat in a darkened theater with my dad and watched my beloved Mr. Spock sacrifice himself to save the Enterprise. It was the first time I realized my heroes could die. It was a pretty powerful moment and to this day when I hear Spock say, “I have been and always shall be your friend” tears come to my eyes.

As I grew older I still loved Spock, but my love for his best friend Captain James T. Kirk grew. I loved his never say die attitude, his sense of loyalty, his sense of humor, and his sense of adventure. He was my favorite Star Trek Captain until I met a man named Benjamin Lafayette Sisko, but that’s a story for another time. So I was saddened when Kirk was killed off in such a blah way in “Stark Trek: Generations” and then really happy when William Shatner with some help from the great Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens brought Kirk back in a series of fun novels. They were highly enjoyable reads, but after a while the series sort of lost steam for me.

Then last year I heard about David Goodman’s “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk: The Story of Starfleet’s Greatest Captain.” I was very curious. Could this be a chance to catch back up and relive the exploits of a hero who shaped so much of my youth? A chance to see some of Captain Kirk’s adventures from a different perspective? I had to find out. So I added the book to my Amazon wishlist and got it as a Christmas gift. I just finished the book and I’m happy to report that the answers to my two earlier questions was a resounding yes. “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk” is a fun and fantastic read that captures the true spirit of Star Trek in the way the Nu-Trek series of films wishes it could.

When you first open “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk” you’re greeted by a foreword by

GoodmanDr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy and it becomes clear from the get go that Goodman knows the characters he’s writing about. He perfectly nails McCoy’s voice. Then we get the book itself which is told in first person by the titular character, whose voice he also captured perfectly. Goodman then brings the book to a fantastic close with an afterword by Kirk’s best friend, a now older, wiser Spock and I can practically hear Leonard Nimoy’s voice in my head.

The other great thing about “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk” is the fact that it’s a purely character driven story. Goodman expertly ties together Kirk’s childhood, years in Starfleet Academy, as well as both his television and small screen exploits into one singular narrative. It’s a tale that’s fun, exciting, powerful, and heartrendingly poignant. That’s because Goodman gets Kirk.

He understand that the galaxy’s greatest hero might have some swagger when it comes to romancing a green skinned alien woman or facing down a Klingon commander, but at heart he’s a humble man whose haunted by his failures. Over the course of the book you see Kirk both fulfilled and haunted by his commitment to duty. He struggles to forge a family outside of his career while not realizing how strong a family he has forged while sitting in the captain’s chair of the Enterprise.

There’s plenty of new stuff in “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk” that’s interesting, but Goodman makes the parts you know, where Kirk recounts his film and television adventures, equally fascinating. I particularly loved how he handled the heartbreaking loss Kirk experienced in “City on the Edge of Forever” and the mixture of emotions that came as we got Kirk’s insight into the films “Wrath of Khan,” “Search for Spock,” “The Voyage Home,” and “Undiscovered Country.” I also loved how he handled the wretched fifth Trek film “The Final Frontier.” I’m not going to spoil it, but I think long time Trek fans will enjoy what Goodman does.

So if you’re a “Star Trek” fan or just looking for an insight into what makes a great hero tick do yourself a favor and pick up “The Autobiography of James T. Kirk.” It’s a fascinating look at the exploits of one of pop culture’s greatest and most wonderfully flawed heroes.

Categories: Book Review, Uncategorized

Book Review- “Young Americans by Josh Stallings”

January 1, 2016 1 comment

Young AmericansI was born in 1976. So for me the ’70s is a decade I can only experience by looking back at history or some of the film, television, books, comics, and music that was produced in that era. It seems pretty clear though that decade was a great time for crime fiction and it’s also a great era to set a pulp crime tale; the mob was this organization of almost mythic power and corruption was everywhere. In his new novel “Young Americans” writer Josh Stallings takes readers back to that time period, by melding a heist story worthy of the great Richard Stark with a subculture he was part of and loved, the Glam Rock era. The result is a powerful, fun, and exciting crime tale.

“Young Americans,” (named after the David Bowie album) kicks off in mid December of 1976 in Northern California. In the opening chapters we meet Sam, a stripper who has run afoul of a powerful rural crime boss and the only way to save herself is by returning to the family business, thievery. So Sam returns home to San Francisco and assembles a heist crew to help her get out from under the crime lord’s thumb and perhaps start a better life. We follow her and her friends and family as they form a plan, gather the materials they need, and case their target. We then go along on the daring New Year’s Eve heist of a packed disco and then the story picks up even more power and momentum as the aftermath of the heist puts Sam and company in the crosshairs of a number of powerful and dangerous enemies.

So “Young Americans” is a fun and exciting tale full of twists, turns, and JoshStallingsgreat action, but it’s real strength is it’s great cast of complex, fun, and well developed characters. Our chief protagonists are Sam, a tough and cunning thief with a devotion to both her biological and chosen families; and her brother Jacob whose smarts got him shut out of the family business. So when we meet him Jake is a bright kid obsessed with the great films of his era and the great rock ‘n roll, and when his sister comes home he insists on being part of her plans to get out of trouble.

Jake’s friend Terry, a smart jock turned glitter rock kid also becomes part of the crew. Rounding out the team are Sam’s old partners in crime Candy and my favorite character in the book Valentina, an African American transgender woman. I don’t want to spoil anything by talking too much about why I like Val, but let’s just say she’s incredibly charismatic and a bad-ass.

We also meet a number of colorful, eclectic, and cool characters over the course of “Young Americans.” One of my favorites ended up being Jo jo a gay, kindly, mob enforcer with a love for ’70s TV.

“Young Americans” shines a light on how cool, capable, and tough Stallings core cast is, but the author also really shows off their humanity as well. We get to see them in their element and we get to see them dealing with the physically and emotionally taxing consequences of their actions. Those are my favorite types of crime novels; the ones where you get both thrills and excitement and the brutal and painful costs of violence. It’s a type of novel that Stallings is a master at telling too. He proved it with his Moses McGuire trilogy of novels and proves it once again here.

So “Young Americans” has a different kind of feel than Stallings previous work, but it contains all of the elements I’ve come to love about his writing: fun action, gritty street level crime, fascinating characters, and powerful and poignant drama. For me it reads like a mash up of the lurid, lightning charged rock of the post-glam punk band the Cramps and Richard Stark’s awesome Parker novels.

Categories: Book Review, Uncategorized

Quick Book Review- Deathwatch by Steve Parker

February 12, 2014 Leave a comment

 

I’m still relatively new to the world of Warhammer 40K fiction. I’ve gotten to know the Inquisition thanks to Dan Abnett’s novels. I’ve also done a bit of adventuring with the Imperial Guard via Sandy Mitchell’s first Ciaphas Caine omnibus. I really loved those books.

Deathwatch is my first Space Marines novel and I really did enjoy it. The characters of Talon Squad were the highlights of the book. I really enjoyed getting to know them and watching them bond via Deathwatch training and their actual mission. The book’s weakness was that it was a dual narrative that focused on the Inquisition from time to time and it tended to slow things down. The characters and action there were not as interesting. Plus the nature of Talon Squad’s mission was a little predictable.

All in all though this was a fun novel with character you cared about and some great action especiallySteveParkerBW when the protagonist Karas, a Psyker Space Marine got to cut loose with his powers. I hope Mr. Parker gets a chance to tell another novel length adventure featuring Talon Squad.

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Book Review- Assassin’s Code

May 23, 2012 1 comment

When I was a kid I was drawn to horror stories because essentially they were about men and women going into the dark to face monsters, being tested, and walking away victorious. The older I got the more I understood and appreciated the fact that some monsters are all too human and all too often battling these monsters would change people. They were battles worth fighting, but fighting and winning them comes with a cost. When I find a story that can combine that youthful feeling of excitement with the grit and realism of stories that mean something and matter I devour that story. When you find an author who delivers those types of stories on a regular basis you find yourself eagerly awaiting that author’s next book. Jonathan Maberry is just such an author.

In the previous three novels of his Joe Ledger series he’s given readers exciting tales of highly trained soldiers that battle human and man made scientific monsters and the price they pay for doing that duty. In his latest novel, “Assassin’s Code,” the fourth in the Ledger series, Maberry takes his soldiers one step further into the darkness as they come up against mythic and possible supernatural monsters. The result is the best novel in the series so far.

“Assassin’s Code” kicks off in media res and dumps both readers and Joe Ledger into a tense situation. Ledger and his fellow soldiers in Echo Team are in Iran looking for an escape route after accomplishing a successful mission to free some American hikers that the Iranian government has taken hostage. While Ledger is laying low a high ranking member of Iranian Intelligence ambushes him and forces him into a clandestine meeting where he delivers some shocking news; an unknown enemy has rigged several oil fields with nuclear bombs. Ledger and his team must discover who this enemy is and stop the bombs from being detonated before it’s too late.

From there the novel takes off like a rocket. The pacing in “Assassin’s Code” is breath taking. Pacing is something Maberry has always been good at, but I think this is his most exhilaratingly paced novel yet. The main action of the story occurs over the course of only about two days and much of those days are spent running with Joe Ledger as he tries to stay away from a horde of enemies, or with the command and support staff of the Department of Military Sciences, the clandestine organization Leger works for, as they try to decipher the clues to the mystery of what they’re facing. There are some flashbacks that take place months, and even centuries earlier but they are useful and shocking revelations that only heighten the enjoyment of the story.

Speaking of revelations, now we come to spoiler territory. Let’s see if I can dance around it. The primary enemies that Ledger, Echo Team, and the DMS face in “Assassin’s Code” are an ancient order of assassins known as the Red Order. Much of the novel is spent trying to determine what the members of the Red Order are and if they are products of the supernatural or some weird offshoot of science. Maberry does an excellent job handling the revelations surrounding the Red Order. With the ending of the last Ledger book, “The King of Plagues” and some of the developments in this one, especially those surrounding a returning villain from “The King of the Plagues,” it feels like Maberry is guiding his readers into the deep end of the supernatural pool. He’s doing it in the same expert way John Connelly did with his Charlie Parker series of novels. It’s exciting to see.

Since we’re on the topic of the supernatural fans of Maberry’s “Pine Deep” trilogy of novels will appreciate a fun little Easter Egg that links the trilogy to the Ledger novels. It’s the second of such links (the first being a fun short story titled “Material Witness” that is available for download.) I look forward to a later meeting by the survivors of the Pine Deep novels and the members of the DMS.

Character wise, “Assassins Code” is a great mix of old and new cast members. As usual, Maberry gives readers plenty of time inside the scarred, but noble psyche of his protagonist, Joe Ledger. He also gives us some more clues into the past of the most intriguing supporting character in the Ledger series, the enigmatic Mister Church. Echo Team doesn’t get as much time in this installment as previous novels, but you do get to know their three newest members a little more; Khalid Shaheed, Lydia Ruiz, and most importantly my favorite the sniper of few words, John Smith. You also get some time with some reoccurring villains (no spoilers here either!) One becomes a bigger character you love to hate, one has a surprising transformation, and one becomes even more frightening and mysterious.

In terms of new characters we’re given a host of intriguing ones in the form of two rival organizations. The first is a team of all female warriors and assassins known as Arklight, who Mister Church has a mysterious connection with. Their chief operative in the story is a woman known as Violin that assists Ledger throughout the story and has some pretty interesting chemistry with him. The second is the dangerous and powerful Red Order and their leader, Grigor, a bloodthristy and hateful man who has dubbed himself the King of Thorns

When Grigor and his enemies come up against Joe Ledger and his allies the results are some pretty powerful and exciting action scenes. Those of you who have read my previous reviews of the Ledger novels know how much I love Maberry’s action scenes, particularly the ones involving hand to hand combat. “Asssassin’s Code” is packed with those. There are several stand out brutal and vicious fights that really test Joe Ledger’s mettle as a character. Lately, I’ve been reading Jack Kirby’s work on Marvel Comics “Black Panther” series and one of the reasons why Kirby was called “The King of Comics” was because of the visceral and powerful ways he brought to life action scenes. The action scenes in the other Ledger novels and especially “Assassin’s Code” are a pretty good argument for dubbing Maberry “The Jack Kirby” of prose.

The action, characters, plot, and pacing, all combine together for Maberry’s most satisfying Joe Ledger novel to date. The ending of the book really kept me guessing and ended on several very cool notes. The epilogue wraps up several things and also sets the stage for the next Ledger novel, which I eagerly await.

Categories: Book Review, Uncategorized

Book Review-The Drop

January 6, 2012 Leave a comment

 Michael Connelly’s premier protagonist, Los Angeles Police Detective Harry Bosh, has been fighting crime for a long time. “The Black Echo,” Connelly’s first novel, was published in 1992 and since then Bosch has starred in or been a major player in 16 more novels. Two things that Harry confronts regularly in his investigations are corruption and evil incarnate. In Connelly’s latest novel, “The Drop” Bosch is saddled with two cases that bring him face to face with these eternal enemies. The result is a powerful and highly satisfying novel.

It’s been awhil since we’ve seen Harry Bosch work a case on his own in the City of Los Angeles. In 2009’s “9 Dragons,” the last pure Bosch novel Harry spent much of the book trying to solve a family crisis in Hong Kong. In 2010’s “The Reversal” Bosch shared the spotlight with half brother Mickey Haller AKA the Lincoln Lawyer. Those were both compelling and exciting novels but I’ve kind of missed getting the chance to see Harry Bosch do what he does best. So it was a lot of fun to be back with Harry on his home turf and seeing him crack cases

In “The Drop” Bosch is actually given two cases. The first one comes to him because of his current assignment as an investigator for the Robbery Homicide’s elite Open-Unsolved Unit, which investigates cold cases. He’s assigned to figure out why the blood of a young boy was found on a victim that was murdered in 1989. Bosch’s second case comes to him from an old enemy that long time readers will remember well, Irvin H Irving. The former Internal Affairs Cop turned City Councilman wants Bosch to investigate the death of his son who fell to his death from a seventh floor hotel room.

The two cases take some powerful and surprising twists and it’s a lot of fun to watch Bosch handle them. Connelly once again proves he’s a master at telling these kinds of stories. The closer Bosch gets to the truth on each of his cases the harder it is to put the book down. The cases are connected thematically, but I can’t say how for fear of spoilers. Some readers may make the frustrating mistake of wanting to find larger connections between them though. I did that at first, but once I sat back and let them be what they were I enjoyed the novel even more.

As I mentioned in the beginning, there seems to be two types of classic Harry Bosch stories the ones dealing with some kind of corruption and the ones wear he confronts evil incarnate. In “The Drop” you get a story that combines both of these tales together and it’s done by a writer who is older, wiser, and better and knows how to spin these classic tales in interesting ways. So the plot, tone, and pacing of “The Drop” are all extremely well done .

The other element that makes “The Drop” so entertaining is of course the characters. Fans get to see all of Harry’s idiosyncrasies on display in “The Drop” and get to be reminded of why we love the character so much. We also get to see Harry spend a lot of time in a new and interesting role, that of Father. “Nine Dragons” brought Harry’s teenage daughter, Maddy, back into his life in a big way, but “The Drop” is the first chance you get to see a lot of that relationship.

It’s a pretty cool and loving relationship too. And Kudos to Connelly for not making Maddy your typical irritating teenager who does stupid stuff and is constantly bickering with her father. In “The Drop” you get to see Maddy is very close to her father and respects him. You also get to see that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Maddy appears to be a very canny detective for her age and her insight into human behavior often surprises her father.

Connelly also uses “The Drop” to introduce a new character into Bosch’s life Doctor Hannah Stone, a psychiatrist who works to counsel and try to redeem convicted sex offenders. Stone’s occupation challenges some of Bosch’s beliefs about crime and criminals, but he can’t help but be drawn to her. She makes for an interesting love interest for the character and I’m curious to see what else Connelly does with their relationship in future books.

Rounding out the memorable cast of “The Drop” are a couple more compelling and eclectic characters. Connelly spends a lot of time developing Bosch’s relationship with his partner Detective David Chu. The scenes with the two of them felt very real and it was interesting to see the dynamic they have together. The other fascinating character we spend very little time with, but the time you do spend is scary as hell. Near the end of the book readers meet a violent, despicable, and remorseless killer. The character is evil incarnate, but he’s not a cartoon character. His actions and dialogue ring true. That can be hard to do, but I think Connelly pulls it off chillingly well.

Finally, the title “The Drop” refers to the LAPD’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan, which means Bosch is nearing the end of his career. So it’s possible that “The Drop” may be one of the last Harry Bosch books. If that is the case I’ll miss the character, but I’m also excited about that idea. With “The Drop” it feels like Connelly is setting the stage for the final act in one of the greatest police procedural sagas ever. There are several elements of the story that could easily carry over into the next book and I can’t wait to see what happens next. The fact that I can still say that after reading 17 Bosch novels speaks volumes about Connelly’s ability as a writer.

Categories: Harry Bosch, Uncategorized

Book Review- “Hell & Gone”

December 2, 2011 Leave a comment

ImageI try to avoid any types of spoilers when I do a book review, but sometimes that’s just not possible. Like when you’re reviewing the second book in a three part trilogy and the action picks up right where the first one left off. That’s the case with writer Duane Swierczynski’s latest crime novel, “Hell & Gone” and I’m about to review that book. So consider this a spoiler warning. In fact, if you haven’t read “Fun & Games,” the first book in Swierczynski’s Charlie Hardie trilogy, stop what you’re doing and go read it right now. You won’t regret it. Don’t worry we’ll wait . . .

Ok, everybody ready? Just in case one last big SPOILER WARNING!!!!!!

All right then, away we go! When we last left ex-Philadelphia Police consultant and tough guy extraordinaire Charlie Hardie he had saved the host of an “America’s Most Wanted” style program from a group of incredibly stealthy assassins dubbed the “Accident People” for their knack for making their crimes looks like accidents. As it turns out though the “Accident People” are just foot soldiers for a large and very powerful organization, an organization that’s not very happy with Charlie Hardie.

“Fun & Games” ends with Hardie falling into this organization’s custody and in “Hell & Gone” they enact their vengeance upon Hardie by sending him to a strange, underground, ultra secure prison. Complicating things even further is the fact that upon his arrival at the prison Hardie discovers that he’s the facility’s new warden and if anybody escapes from the prison on his watch everyone inside will die.

So there’s a lot of stuff going on in “Hell & Gone” and all of it is pretty awesome. One of the most interesting things is the very nature of the prison itself is a mystery. Its true nature is revealed near the end of the novel and the revelation is a fun mix of science fiction, classic prison movie elements, conspiracy stories, and academia.

Another great thing is that Swierczynski uses the set up of the prison to reveal even more about his Imageprotagonist. We got to know and root for Charlie in “Fun & Games” and in “Hell & Gone” we get to know even more about his past and what makes him tick. We get to see how he holds up under a great amount of physical and mental oppression and best of all we get to see him fight back. That’s because Swierczynski know all the best prison stories involve jail breaks.

You also get to learn a lot more about another character who only played a minor role in “Fun & Games,”  Hardie’s FBI contact  Special Agent Deke Clark. Clark spends much of “Hell & Gone” searching for Hardie and dealing with the enigmatic and powerful forces behind his disappearance. Clark’s reactions are believable and he’s a very likeable character that you enjoy spending time with.

The supporting cast of “Hell & Gone” is also populated by several interesting new characters especially the inmates and guards of the prison Hardie is trapped in. All of them have intricate and interesting back stories that are revealed as the novel unfolds. I can’t confirm this but based on the character’s names and some of their stories it feels like Swierczynski includes some fun homages and Easter eggs to his fellow crime writers and some of their characters.

So reading “Hell & Gone” was a lot of fun. The only thing that seemed out of place was an opening scene that didn’t look it had any relevance to the larger plot, but towards the end of the novel Swierczynski comes back to it and weaves that scene into his larger story in a very compelling way.

In Summary “Hell & Gone” is the best kind of sequel, one that’s even better than the first chapter in the story. It’s pacing, action, and characters were all great.  As a long time fan of Swierczynski’s work I think it’s his best novel to date.

So the bar is set pretty high for the third chapter in the Charlie Hardie trilogy, “Point and Shoot,” which arrives in March. Swierczynski gives the novel a hell of a set up with the final pages of “Hell & Gone” and even if it’s only half as good the previous novel’s it’s bound to be a lot of fun.

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