Monday, February 11, 2013

REVIEW: The List / Tom Wallace

TITLE: The List
AUTHOR: Tom Wallace
PUBLISHER: Hydra Publications
AVAILABILITY: Amazon US (Kindle eBook), Amazon UK (Kindle eBook), Barnes & Noble (paperback), Coming Soon in paperback!

Recommended for fans of conspiracy thrillers and stories featuring assassins.

The List contains all the must-haves of the thriller genre—danger, intrigue, and suspense. Powerful villains. Exciting action scenes. Anticipation. There are elements of the crime/murder mystery genre, as one of the main characters is a homicide detective seeking the truth about his mother’s death decades ago.

Page-turner. While The List isn’t the kind of heart-pounding thriller that advances the plot at breakneck speed, the ubiquitous sense of tension that surrounds the story makes it hard to put down.

Third person. The List is written from the points of view of multiple characters, following them closely and laying out their internal thoughts and motivations. At times, Wallace backs up and tells the story from a more omniscient perspective in order to depict a scene from more than one angle.

Tom Wallace’s latest thriller, The List, brings together two characters from his previous novels, the dedicated cop Jack Dantzler and the ruthless assassin known as Cain, and sends them on a mission that twists both their pasts into a “sordid saga of a few men whose desire to make huge sums of money trumped loyalty to the United States.”

Both of Dantzler’s parents were killed when he was a child—his father, Johnny, killed in action in Vietnam, his mother, Sarah, murdered several years later. It was his mother’s murder that drove Dantzler to become a cop in the first place, but despite his admirable track record and reputation as perhaps the best homicide detective in Lexington, he was never able to find her killer. The List opens with Dantzler receiving a visit from a Vietnam veteran who claims that not only is there more to Johnny Dantzler’s death, but that Sarah Dantzler was killed for trying to unearth the truth. The veteran is unable to say much more, but leaves with, “Find Cain. If you seek answers to your questions, he’s your best bet for finding them. However… the smart play, the safe play, would be to let the ghosts from the past rest in peace.”

While Dantzler’s investigation that kick-starts the plot, The List is less his story and more a series of scenes, strung together like distinct multicolored beads on the thread that is Apollo Enterprises, a private security firm from which the United States army rents mercenaries. Wallace constructs detailed portraits of every character and point of view, laying out their motivations and allowing the reader to watch the story unfold from multiple angles. Dantzler—the man who is both a cop and a vengeful son. The top dog at Apollo whose reach extends into the most powerful circles of the U.S. government and who can make problem people disappear with a wave of his hand. The intrepid investigative journalist determined to expose his company’s more nefarious—and treasonous—activities. The Russian assassin both in awe of Cain and after his blood. And of course, Cain himself.

Cain is a fascinating and wonderful creation, a character who is both terrifying and mesmerizing to watch. A Vietnam veteran who once served with Dantzler’s father, Cain first made a name for himself as a bringer of death during the war. Although decades have passed since, his age is no obstacle to his lethal abilities. He dispatches his victims efficiently and never once contemplates the rights and wrongs of his bloody profession, viewing himself not as an assassin, but a soldier—someone who obeys orders to track down and eliminate enemies. As Wallace puts it, “for him, opponents were nothing more than obstacles that had to be cleared away, and emotion wasn’t required when removing an obstacle.” Cain’s steadfast loyalty to his friends, including Dantzler, is the only sign of humanity beneath his otherwise psychopathic cold-bloodedness, and yet it is enough to make him a person rather than a weapon, a character rather than a plot device. He also possesses a dry wit—and a twisted sense of humor.

Where Wallace excels as an author is in his ability to make his characters come alive. He deftly utilizes the unique tools of his medium, the written book, to give them purposes and personalities, to allow the reader to get to know them through their back stories and internal thoughts as well as their actions. Not all his characters are sympathetic—in fact, many are deeply unlikable—and many possess the larger-than-life personalities characteristic of the genre. Nevertheless, they are a convincing and thoroughly entertaining cast to read about.

The List reads like a best-of demonstration of Wallace’s strengths—his skills in characterization and his talent for suspense, not to mention the flair with which he writes his dialogues. Wallace’s efficient and straightforward writing make it easy to get lost in the story. As with Wallace’s previous thriller, Gnosis, I ended up finishing this book in less than two days. Some plot points could be improved upon, but all in all, this book makes for an absorbing and enjoyable read, the kind that had me incessantly turning the pages.

There are many scenes of violence, some of which are quite gruesome, although most involve Cain swiftly offing those who stand in his way. There is one short, somewhat graphic sex scene depicted. This book contains adult language.

Tom Wallace is a Vietnam vet and an active member of Mystery Writers of America and the Author’s Guild. He lives in Lexington, Kentucky, and has penned three previous mysteries featuring Detective Jack Dantzler (What Matters Blood, The Devil’s Racket, and Gnosis) as well as a thriller featuring Cain (Heirs of Cain)

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