Review - American Blood, Ben Sanders

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American Blood
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Book Synopsis

A former undercover cop now in witness protection finds himself pulled into the search for a missing woman. An explosive, unputdownable work of suspense from a fresh voice in crime fiction.

After a botched undercover operation, ex-NYPD officer Marshall Grade is living in witness protection in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Marshall's instructions are to keep a low profile: the mob wants him dead, and a contract killer known as the Dallas Man has been hired to track him down. Racked with guilt over wrongs committed during his undercover work, and seeking atonement, Marshall investigates the disappearance of a local woman named Alyce Ray.

Members of a drug ring seem to hold clues to Ray's whereabouts, but hunting traffickers is no quiet task. Word of Marshall's efforts spreads, and soon the worst elements of his former life, including the Dallas Man, are coming for him.

Book Review

This is a book that absolutely lives up to its name - there is a lot of blood in American Blood. And in what is a uniquely American style an obsession with guns – how they work, what they sound like, their little quirks (who knew that the trigger on a Colt stuck when it is nudged in a particular way?). Which is why it is all the more surprising to learn that the author, Ben Sanders, is a young New Zealander. Sanders has taken a well worn American crime sub-genre – the vigilante loner – and made it his own.

Sander’s protagonist, Marshall, is a character familiar to Jack Reacher fans. He is frighteningly competent with a gun and with his fists, he doesn’t say much and he stands on the side of the victim. When the book opens, that victim in Lauren Shore, a detective who is drowning her sorrows in a bar and needs some protection from unwanted attention. But this bit of violence is this genre’s version of a meet cute for Marshall and Shore. The main driver of this book is Marshall’s search for a missing girl, a cause he takes on just because he feels that someone should, and it brings him into the orbit of a bunch of particularly nasty drug dealers. Marshall is living in New Mexico, in witness protection and still being pursued by a contract killer known only as the Dallas Man, from his time as an undercover cop in New York.

The rest of the cast runs a gamut of American crime standards – the emotionless hitman who calms himself by ringing his daughter, the drug dealer trying to raise the money for his sister’s operation, the taciturn FBI agent who has to keep telling his wife that he won’t be home for dinner, the detective still dealing with the effects of a crime she had no control over. All get a few point-of-view chapters which serve to raise the tension and keep the plot moving. Families are always in the background of these characters but the relationships are all surface, most appearing, if at all, as voices on the phone, there to provide character colour rather than as real people.

While there are plenty of shifts of allegiance and some effective twists at the end of this book there are not too many actual surprises. The plot runs along fairly standard lines in which character motivations cross over each other, the level of danger ramps up and Marshall does his thing, usually a very violent thing, to get himself out of danger. The dry, sun-bleached New Mexico setting and its various locales - cheap hotels, nightclubs, suburbs and diners – is effective for this type of story and are well described by Sanders.

In the end, this a violent, fairly joyless book focussing on people who solve most of their problems using weapons. For readers who enjoy this particular crime sub-genre, Ben Sanders will be an exciting new find. And the open ending and hanging plot threads means that, much like his fictional compadres, drifting through the mean streets of the USA, we have not seen the last of Marshall.

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