A clandestine tournament has unforeseen consequences in this science-fiction action/thriller.
Frank Youngsmith, a hapless insurance agent, is forced to investigate a doctor’s suspicious death and discovers the doctor was involved with a secret organization that operates “The Tournament,” a secret war-game-like global contest that pits six teams, each backed by their home country, against each other in a series of public no-holds-barred gunfights. The teams are known by an identifying color and comprised of three people, and each team member carries a gun loaded with a special bulletlike “diode” that shocks and incapacitates whoever is on the receiving end. Behind the scenes, Tournament officials broker huge wagers (including some that are potentially world-altering) between anonymous bidders and do their best to ensure the match-ups run as smoothly as possible. Griffith, though, shies away from detailing Tournament machinations and quickly buries Youngsmith, who opens the book as the reader’s surrogate, in the narrative. Instead, the author devotes much of the book’s first half to characterization, shifting among a series of biographical flashbacks. While this makes it difficult to gain narrative footing, it’s an entertaining way to firmly establish the book’s characters and simultaneously build the tension toward their inevitable confrontations. Much of the second half of the book is dedicated to violent action sequences, and Griffith propels the story forward by pinballing among a series of elaborate set pieces, including a commercial airplane cabin and a packed Parisian nightclub. Griffith revels in the details of his action scenes and gives readers a visceral sense of the mayhem by sticking close to his well-painted characters. But, as a result, some plot information falls through the cracks. Many of these are logistical details relating to official Tournament operations, and while some readers might balk at Griffith’s narrative choices, others will be pleased to overlook them in light of the author’s stylistic command of character-driven action.
Even though certain plot elements are undercooked, the well-drawn characters and exciting action scenes make this an enjoyable novel.