Monday, 8 June 2015

The Samaritan by Mason Cross

The Samaritan is the author’s second novel, his first, The Killing Season, being a runaway success. I haven't read the first book and as the sequel features the same main character, Carter Blake, I was a little apprehensive as to whether I would find it hard to pick up any relevant backstory. I needn't have worried, The Samaritan works as a standalone novel, though obviously it would be better to have read the first book. The author gives enough snippets of information for a new reader like me to understand the character and what he’s experienced in the past, without rehashing lots detail that might slow the plot.

Carter Blake is an interesting creation, a former special forces soldier who now searches for people who don’t want to be found. Early on in the novel you learn that he has a sense of ethics, refusing a job that might lead to the person he locates being killed. While the author doesn't go into too much detail about the special forces unit he was a part of (all we really learn is that it is completely off the books) it struck me that the author was inspired by the Intelligence Support Activity, a real life Pentagon unit that is shrouded in secrecy.

The story kicks off when one of his former colleagues, also a veteran of the above mentioned unit, and a man who always enjoyed killing just a little too much, begins murdering women in Los Angeles. His method is to abduct women whose cars have broken down on the freeway, torture and kill them. Carter Blake sees a news broadcast about the unsolved murders, recognises a feature of the case, and travels to Los Angeles to assist. The local police are of course suspicious of this outsider, but eventually one detective in particular embraces him.

As I mention above, the author’s first novel was a success and received overwhelmingly positive reviews; I imagine this second outing will receive the same. All of which means that I am likely to be the exception rather than the rule. It's not that I didn't enjoy this novel, I did, it kept me turning pages and coming back for more. But a thriller of this sort needs more if it's going to elevate itself above a mere airport novel, something to be quickly read and quickly forgotten. For me this doesn't reach those heady heights.

First off, the antagonist just doesn't ring true. Special forces and intelligence services psychologically screen their candidates and I'm just not convinced that someone as psychotic as the author portrays him to be would pass muster. Then there’s the whole serial killer thing. Personally I find deranged murderers slaughtering a succession of young women kind of tedious and with the odd exception – Silence of the Lambs, the movie Seven – I prefer my crime fiction to rely on something more. This was just another serial killing book, the victims reduced to carcasses, albeit with an interesting protagonist. And that brings me to Carter Blake himself. I like the people-finder specialist; it's an interesting role for a character. Unfortunately, however, the excellent author Tim Weaver has already done this much better, albeit with his character set in the UK and an ex-journalist rather than a spec ops guy. In comparison to Weaver’s David Raker, I just found Carter Blake a little one-dimensional.

In conclusion, this is a fast-paced roller coaster of a ride, lots of thrills and spills, lots action. It's a good book to read on the beach, by the pool, or to make that flight go a little faster. But will I be searching out Mason Cross’s previous books or any future outings for Carter Blake? Yeah, sure, it was fun. But there are other authors whose books I’ll be reading first.

I would give this book 3 out of 5 stars

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