Review of “His Revenge” by John W. Howell

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This fast-moving, well-written and nicely edited thriller keeps you turning the pages as you wonder how hero, John Cannon, is going to get out of his current dilemma. In the first book in this trilogy (My GRL), Cannon foiled a sophisticated group of terrorist’s insidious plan. Needless to say, they’re out for revenge and manage to capture him after which they force him to be part of another devious plot aimed at destroying the economic viability of the west. The suspense is well-sustained, dialog gripping, and characters convincing. The action level was breathtaking. Having not read “My GRL” it was nonetheless relatively easy to follow what had transpired previously. Descriptions of Cannon’s recovery from injuries sustained in the previous book were extremely well done.

However, there were various gaps typical of a serial where the author doesn’t remind a previous reader (or enlighten a new one) with regard to details such as what the characters look like. For example, while it was implied in this volume that the terrorists were of the Middle Eastern variety, their names were not indicative of that heritage. Rather, they had names that suggested European or even American origin. There was also no physical description with regard to their appearance, so they were a faceless enigma. This left me scratching my head throughout the story, wondering “Who exactly are these people?”

I can definitely understand this tendency myself since I’ve written a serial. In the author’s mind it’s one, continuous story and easy to forget to include details that seem redundant, yet they’re essential. I’ve covered some of the things I’ve learned in previous blogs for serial writers such as this one and its follow-up. I’m sure my readers can find similar oversights in my books, so I mention this in all humility.

The motivation for their heinous acts was touched on, but not demonstrated in their personal behavior. While I would expect lethal passion resulting from intense anger, hatred, and a visceral need for revenge, the antagonists behaved more like corporate executives out to annihilate a competitor to keep their stockholders satisfied. They were definitely cold-hearted, but the expected fury at Cannon’s previous actions didn’t come through.

Maybe this was covered in the first book, but evoking the emotional drive behind their acts could have added considerable intensity and additional suspense. If the bad guys were true terrorists, you’d expect that pissing them off further would result in chopping Cannon’s (or a loved one’s) head off on YouTube, but that type of potential didn’t come through. Emotional connection is what really grabs a reader. They need to love the hero and hate the antagonist, or at least fear him/her. This is what makes a story real and comprises a gripping tale.

I hate to get on the soapbox again, but I find it helpful to to assess a book during the content editing process using the acronym IDEAS where I stands for Imagery; D stands for Dialog; E stands for Emotion; A stands for Action and S stands for Suspense. Depending on the genre, a certain balance is required of these elements. Action and dialog often come easily for thriller writers, so going back to include the others is often required. Of course you don’t want to slow the story down, so it needs to be done with finesse, not long, drawn-out descriptions that cause the reader’s eyes to glaze over.

While in this story the terrorists used the fate of loved ones to drive their captives’ cooperation, it seemed that the good guys may have gotten around it a bit too easily, if these terrorists were as smart or well-connected as implied. Especially if the antagonists had as much clout and the ability to infiltrate so many organizations to effect Cannon’s capture, which was not explained, either. Including such things increases a story’s credibility.

Perhaps this was covered in the first book, which would make it required reading to fully appreciate this one. The author has an excellent writing style with a talent for developing a fast moving story with convincing dialog and viable characters. By filling in some of these gaps, kicking up the emotional drive a notch, and a bit more imagery, Howell could easily approach the level of Tom Clancy or John Grisham. I see tremendous potential in his writing that could go from great to outstanding with a bit more attention to detail, though many readers may not care and simply enjoy the fast action. I, personally, like to know the how and wherefore, which is what can drive a great story up a notch to the best seller list.

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