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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mini-Reviews: The Killing Season by Mason Cross and Legion by Robert Swartwood (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


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OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Killing Season is Mason Cross’ debut and the opening volume in the Carter Blake series. It’s a book that I had high hopes from after I read the book blurb and the first chapter. After finishing it, I can safely say this debut is one of the best thrillers I’ve ever read in the past few years and promises a glorious writing future for Mason Cross.

The story begins when Caleb Wardell, a sniper of ill repute escapes on way between  prison transportation. Once free Caleb begins his plans anew and begins his sniper spree again. However his methods and victims seem to be random and are frustrating to predict. Enter Carter Blake, a pseudonymous young man who is best known for finding things and people who are hidden or don’t want to be found. He’s teamed up with the FBI to track down Wardell, and his partner is Elaine Banner. She comes with a history of her own and it will be interesting to see how these two collaborate to capture Caleb Wardell.

First off with most thriller stories, what captivates the readers are the twists and pace of the story. In this regard The Killing Season scores top-notch points. The overall story is set within a span of less than a week and the readers are constantly kept on the edge with a set of POV chapters alternating between Carter, Elaine and Caleb. This way we get to see the story from all sides and are forced to think about all the angles. The story begins in a very linear fashion but after that splinters up conveniently and the reader will have to keep track of what’s happening and where. The timeframe for the story is set at six days and with each chapter beginning at a certain time in the day or night, gives it a very 24-esque feel.

For me usually when it comes to thriller writers, Jeffrey Deaver, Robert Crais and Lee Child stand out as the best who combine characterization, plot twists and pacy storylines to have readers come back for more with every book release. Mason Cross of course isn’t on par with these greats right now but he showing enough potential for me to keep an eye on him and his Carter Blake books. With thrillers there’s always some place wherein you have to let go of certain worldly realities, the best thriller writers however manage to downplay this angle to the maximum. It’s to Mason’s credit that with his debut that there’s almost next to none in the "suspension of disbelief" section.

Lastly to talk about characterization, in his debut the author manages to show a distinct flair for creating three-dimensional personas both antagonistic and otherwise. Our protagonist Carter Blake is an enigma but there’s enough of a glimpse in to his past to show there’s a reason for his current state. As to Caleb and Elaine, they are fleshed out distinctly and I do hope that those who survive this ordeal make an appearance in the sequel.

CONCLUSION: The Killing Season by Mason Cross is one of those terrific debuts that you almost often never hear about. I loved it for all the aforementioned qualities and if you happen to be a fan of thriller stories by Robert Crais, Lee Child and Jeffrey Deaver, then the first Carter Blake volume is a book you absolutely shouldn’t miss.


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OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Legion by Robert Swartwood was a trip back to a writer whom I had enjoyed previously. The Serial Killer’s Wife was his standalone book that had captivated me as it explored the often-overlooked angle into the spouse of a serial killer. That book was a top-notch read combining excellent thrills, terrific characterization and an ending that was absolutely unpredictable. Legion is a standalone work but also serves as a "prequel of sorts" to the Man of Wax trilogy (of which Man Of Wax and The Inner Circle are released so far).

Legion serves well as a standalone story as it focuses on John Smith who is the youngest among his five siblings and the only one who’s been unsuccessful in the eyes of his parents. A lazy guy who just manages to survive, he doesn’t want to attend his father’s funeral with whom he shared a troubled relationship. His elder sister Melissa wants him to come but he nearly doesn’t do so. Ashley is Melissa’s friend and whose work colleagues are pushing her to give them a scoop about Melissa’s most recent case. Things take a rather difficult turn as Melissa kills her family and then apparently commits suicide. Ashley is very skeptical about Melissa's murder suicide and turns to John to find out how events took a tragic turn. Here’s where they discover that the Legion have been altering the case so and they are its new targets. But who or what is the Legion and why are they so interested in John?

As far as conspiracy thrillers go, this one performs admirably, with an ever constant change of POVs in every other chapters, the author keeps you on your toes as we are constantly left wondering as to what’s going to happen next. There are quite a few POV characters besides John and Ashley but to shine a light upon them would be highly spoilerific. The author however makes this story an absolute thrill ride with its frantic pace and almost something happening in every other chapter that keeps the readers glued to the pages, unsure of what will happen next. I loved this crazy rumble-tumble approach the author has taken and it just goes to show what an accomplished writer he is. On to characterization, our protagonists aren’t quite that interesting but it’s the side characters and antagonists that shine and make this read such a compelling one. Both John and Ashley begin out as rather annoying characters but as the plot unfolds, they come into their own.

Another aspect of the story that I enjoyed was how this story was kept grounded and even though the antagonists have an advantage, they never become caricatures. There’s a reason for all their doings and the way they perform and it’s revealed in the climax but not to its entirety. I believe there will be a lot more about this in the Man Of Wax trilogy and I’ll have to read those books to see what other revelations are there. Lastly the climax ties all loose ends smoothly and gives us a small thread that might open into Man of Wax and I’m hoping it does.

CONCLUSION: Robert Swartwood's Legion is an excellent thriller that does what most thrillers set out to do. Keep the readers hooked with a fast paced story, sprinkled heavily with jaw-dropping twists that end on a climax, which will leave the readers wanting more. Legion is an excellent story and I would heartily recommend it to all thriller readers yet to discover Robert Swartwood. As for me I’m about to start on his other books and Man Of Wax beckons non-stop with its alluring blurb.

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