A must-read new thriller series
The first thing you should know about me is that my name is not Carter Blake. That name no more belongs to me than the hotel room I was occupying when the call came in.
When Caleb Wardell, the infamous ‘Chicago Sniper’, escapes from death row two weeks before his execution, the FBI calls on the services of Carter Blake, a man with certain specialised talents whose skills lie in finding those who don’t want to be found. A man to whom Wardell is no stranger.
Along with Elaine Banner, an ambitious special agent juggling life as a single mother with her increasingly high-flying career, Blake must track Wardell down as he cuts a swathe across America, apparently killing at random.
But Blake and Banner soon find themselves sidelined from the case. And as they try desperately to second guess a man who kills purely for the thrill of it, they uncover a hornets’ nest of lies and corruption. Now Blake must break the rules and go head to head with the FBI if he is to stop Wardell and expose a deadly conspiracy that will rock the country.
I read both of these novels back-to-back, and loved them both. The first two in a new series by British author Mason Cross, they are a wonderful blend of classic loner-hero thrillers and some fresh ideas. They’re difficult to review without spoiling, as is often the case with thrillers, but in a nutshell: Briskly paced, realistic, and gripping — what more could you ask for from a thriller?
The Killing Season (official synopsis above) is a great introduction to Carter Blake. Effectively a bounty hunter, but more official and not always hunting for criminals, Blake is hired (begrudgingly) by the FBI to hunt down an escaped serial killer. Teamed up with Elaine Banner, he does a moderately good job of staying within legal bounds. But, as an unofficial member of the taskforce, he’s able to get away with certain things that his new colleagues cannot. This does not go down well, of course, and eventually he and Banner are marginalized in the investigation. Blake being the incredibly competent (and lucky) investigator that he is, though, he proves time and again to have a better sense of how to hunt psychopaths than almost anyone else.
Wardell takes them on a merry chase around the midwest, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. There are plenty of action scenes, and Cross does a good job of walking the fine line between realistic and ’90s action-movie spectacle. Actions have consequences, and a wound can linger and hamper a character, and there were no miraculous healings (something the James Bond movies have a lot to answer for…).
There are some interesting twists and turns, a few red herrings, and plenty of momentum throughout this novel. It kept me reading well into the early hours of the morning. A superb opening volume to the series.
US Covers (Pegasus)
The Samaritan does exactly what a sequel should do: improve on the debut. First, the synopsis:
When the mutilated body of a young woman is discovered, LAPD Detective Jessica Allen knows she’s seen this MO before.
A sadistic serial killer has been operating undetected for a decade, preying on lone female drivers who have broken down. The press dub the killer ‘the Samaritan’, but with no leads, the police investigation quickly grinds to a halt.
That’s when Carter Blake shows up to volunteer his services. He’s a skilled manhunter who shares some uncomfortable similarities to the man Allen and her team are tracking. As the slaughter intensifies, Blake must find a way to stop it… even if it means bringing his own past crashing down on top of him.
This novel succeeds in every way. It exhibits all the strengths of the first book — the excellent characterization, the tight plotting, the maintenance of an appropriate verisimilitude (especially in action sequences), some twists, and an engaging story. Only, in every instance, The Samaritan was better than The Killing Season. The story was tighter and more gripping — though never felt rushed, and there was a logical and natural progression to events. I enjoyed the new location (Los Angeles) and the new characters and allies. We get to the know Blake better, his supporting cast is more rounded and either sympathetic or aggravating (as needed). I also liked learning a little bit more about Blake’s past as a member of the “Winterlong” group/program.
There is a huge twist at the end, which the author managed to keep well under wraps. It’s a more brutal novel, despite the lower “on-screen” body-count, with Blake and Allen getting into plenty of trouble and danger. The Samaritan also sets up the next novel a bit, with more hints about the Winterlong program and Blake’s role within it. A few popular tropes return — Blake’s loner aspect, the conflict his presence causes in the LAPD, the bully who (maybe) gets his comeuppance. It’s all well-woven into the novel, and never comes across as tired retread.
Put simply, The Samaritan is superb. My favourite new thriller series, long may it continue! A must-read for all fans of thrillers and gripping fiction. Both of these novels are very highly recommended.
[The only reason I didn’t move immediately on to the third novel is because I finished The Samaritan a week before The Time to Kill was released…]
The Killing Season and The Samaritan are out now, published in the UK by Orion, and in the US/Canada by Pegasus. The third book in the series is published as The Time to Kill in the UK (Orion), and Winterlong in the US/Canada (Pegasus). For more on Mason Cross’s novels, be sure to check out his website, and follow him on Twitter and Goodreads.