By Greg Rucka
My latest ‘Look at me, I read books with no pictures as well’ post is still linked to comic books: it was comics that introduced me to the novels of Greg Rucka, and that is one of the many things I for which I can thank them. Although I loved his great Queen & Country novels (at least, I think you can get that message from my appallingly written post about them [LINK]), it is his Atticus Kodiak novels that are even better. Starting out as stories about a bodyguard (‘personal protection service’) with a great name, they were great thrillers based on realism and detail with a fascinating central character, an interesting supporting cast and a level of understanding and research – but without being dry or boring – all of which was cased in Rucka’s sharp, clean, precise prose, with flashes of warmth and humour.
As with all series of novels – this is the sixth in the series – the central character must progress and evolve; in the case of Kodiak, it took a strange but logical turn when his world mixed with that of an assassin, known as Drama, one of The Ten (the world’s elite murderers for hire), which led to this book. It follows on from the events of previous novel (Critical Space), as he and Drama (aka Alena) escape from the threat on their lives and learn of the people responsible and the levels of power to which they are linked.
The amazing ability of Rucka is to combine telling a gripping tale in a world just outside that which we know but to fill it with facts that enhance the story and make it more believable. From little things (Kodiak and Alena don’t drink caffeine because it drains the adrenal gland, and they need all the adrenaline to survive) to the logical explanation of the way in which the underworld operates (there is a chapter explaining how a trained military killer goes freelance and obtains a lawyer to be their contact that is practically a manual, even though it isn’t real). This balance is amazing, especially when creating the suspense scenes requisite in a thriller: at the start of the book, there is an ambush on Kodiak that is an intense set piece, even though you know he can’t die because he’s the narrator (the book is told in a first-person narrative). The precision in his plotting is excellent as well, as the narrative progresses intelligently and inexorably – you can’t escape the grip it has on you.
If there is one tiny fault, if it can be called that, it is the requirement for a woman who was an important part of Kodiak’s life has to die as part of the plot. It’s not Women in Refrigerators but, as I get older, I find that I have lost my stomach for the ‘woman dies to get hero angry for revenge’ plot line – even though I love the Bourne films, the second film loses something by forcing him back by killing Marie (and my girlfriend can’t watch it, or any film where this sort of thing happens). However, this is a very minor qualm in an excellent book, which is taut, gripping, emotional and powerful, and displays Rucka’s skills as a thriller writer once again.