This is my second review of James Phelan’s “Jed Walker” stories. Last time out I wrote about “The Hunted”, which was an Ok read. That story was reasonably well drawn but did feel a bit average (scoring 3 / 5 on the ‘Cloak & Dagger’ scale.). So how did the next two books I read do?
I’m not reading the books in order, which is a bit weird I suppose. The next one I picked up was “Dark Heart” – I enjoyed the trail of trying to understand if the character of Rachel Muertos was a ‘good guy’ or a ‘bad guy’… you thought she was probably definitely a protagonist, but then a little slip would happen and you’d wonder if you’d got that right. The trouble is that on the whole she felt a bit shallow, Walker felt a bit shallow, and the other characters don’t have a great deal of depth – why should we care about these people?
However, the final showdown at the Society of the Cincinnati was well done, the action flowed fast and was believable.
Sometimes Phelan’s style feels a bit odd. Try this line for example:
“And there’s two dead Syrians,” Walker assed. “All in the space of twenty four hours.” – Dark Heart, chapter 55.
I have no idea of what it means when someone ‘assed’, but that slang didn’t work for me.
Next up was “The Spy” – this one is “The First Jed Walker Thriller” and possibly the best of the 3 Phelan’s that I’ve read. The plot line is competent, well presented and trips along at a reasonable pace. We begin with Walker and a side-kick surveilling a roadhouse in Yemen where a terrorist HVT was expected to arrive. Things don’t go as Walker expects when a friendly drone does its best to kill him. A lovely plot follows about a private intelligence company starting a chain of terrorist attacks in order to convince the US government that they are still needed, even though Osama Bin Laden has been killed. Those attacks include an attempt to kill the Vice President, whose Secret Service codename is said to be ‘Zodiac’, and that name is used by the terrorists for their overall plans.
Walker ends up having to fight off every Security Agency possible as he follows the trail and trys to stop Zodiac. He eventually links up with FBI Agent Fiona Somerville, who starts off hunting him down before realising he is ‘a good guy’. Out of all the characters in the 3 books I enjoyed the scenes with Somerville the most; Phelan describes her well, she has realistic motivations, and is often in on the action.
I had 2 irritations with “The Spy”. Firstly, although Thrillers breathe suspense through a ticking clock, here Phelan does it much too overtly, often ending chapters with lines like “Twenty-four hours to deadline.” That was much too obvious for my liking and only really worked when just a few hours were left on the clock. Secondly, I didn’t like the formatting of page numbers at the bottom of each chapter opening but then at the top of every other page. In a couple of places that felt intrusive and broke my reading.
Overall these are better-than-average stories about the adventures of a fairly average protagonist. I enjoyed reading them once, but now don’t agree with the cover tag-line that ‘Jed Walker is right there in Reacher’s rear-view mirror’ – for me he’s quite a way back.
‘The Spy’ and ‘Dark Heart’ both score 3 / 5 on the ‘Cloak & Dagger’ scale.
== There’s more about my writing at russellweb.org.uk, @LeeJ_Russell on Twitter