Book 1 of a globe-trotting, espionage epic of the evergreen “red-blooded American” school, starring a laconic icon of vengeance-seeking machismo who rights international wrongs, gets the (international) girl and who will—apparently—be back for 25 more novels.
Stedman’s debut features an impossibly charismatic, multiculti protagonist, one Mack Maran, a disgraced Irish-Catholic ex–U.S. Army lieutenant colonel from South Boston who smokes cigars (American-made, of course) and sports a tattoo that proclaims—in Hebrew—“Who Dares Wins.” Booted out of his shadowy military unit and suffering from physical and emotional trauma, Maran sets out to foil assorted Islamic terrorists, illegal arms dealers and kidnappers, aided by delectable diamond courier Amber Chu. International villains Grigol Rakhmonov Boyko and “Slang” Vangaler (a black magic expert whose nickname is Afrikaans for “snake”) keep things roiling along in the Congo and elsewhere. Though its convoluted plot and cynical atmosphere come fairly straight from the action-adventure playbook, the novel’s easily identifiable good guys (and equally obvious bad guys) often rise a notch or two above the predictable stock figures of that genre, making it just possible that the author’s intentions are ever so slightly satirical—in the manner of Starship Troopers, perhaps—but, thankfully, not quite meta. Present are the usual twists, but they never stop the action. And while Stedman’s prose rips along at a keen pace over the novel’s 300-plus pages, it never gets too self-consciously script-ready; his players are often given something more to say than lame one-liners. And few writers in this field even bother with the sort of polished travelogue set pieces found here. In a perfect world, an ageless Bruce Willis and an eternally comely Zhang Ziyi would star in the sort of big-screen summer blockbuster adaptation that critics spurn and audiences (and Netflix subscribers) devour.
Perfect fare for frequent fliers and others with time to kill in between installments of the seemingly endless Bourne saga and other such globe-trotting, testosterone-fueled conspiracy-franchise affairs.