Monday, January 29, 2018

Book Review: Blackout (Sam Archer Book 3) by Tom Barber

Lots of Action in a Good Guys against the Bad Storyline

Blackout is an action thriller, with the good guys (Archer and his teammates) against the bad.  And for that simple storyline, it has all the right parts.  The pacing is fast.  You hardly have time to relax from one attack to the next.  The action scenes are intense, explicit, and sometimes grisly (be forewarned).  The tension is good, with a foe that appears invincible.   And all of those parts are well done.  But if you’re looking for more – say character development beyond the minimal or even a bit of a romantic backstory?  Well, you need to look elsewhere.

Blackout builds suspense by methodically revealing first, what’s happening, then who’s involved, and finally, why.  In fact, the why continues to almost the end of the book…which is possible because there are ten targets and seven killers, not including Archer’s organization, the Armed Response Unit (ARU).  We end up with a lot of stories about upbringing, battles, and family, but these generally serve to reinforce a stereotype.  Even Archer, who seems to lament his time away from a woman he likes, puts himself squarely in the macho, save-the-world mold when he thinks, “To be with her, he would have to leave the Armed Response Unit. And right now that wasn't something he was prepared to do.

The tension in Blackout is stoked by the fact that the good guys are less experienced, less well armed, and less ruthless than their foe.  That stumped me at first, as a job with “one of the two premier counter-terrorist squads” in London would seem to attract ex-special forces personnel.  But for some reason, the men of the ARU came up through the police ranks, a fact that becomes clear later in the book.  Yeah, you’re not going to stop a terrorist by reading him his rights.

Although I’ve said the storyline is simple, the good guys are wearing gray hats, not white, as you will find.  More could have been made of that issue, but then, it probably would have come at the expense of the action.  And action is this book’s forte.  I can’t fault the author for his decision.

There were only a few places where I ended up scratching my head.  For one, the bad guys’ safe house was a recently completed office building.  It had such poor security that they seemed to come and go at will over several days, even wiring it for self-destruction in advance.  Or in another case, one of the targets decided to hide in an unknown location…after telling everyone else in the office where they would be.  That seemed to go well beyond naivete.

But these concerns were small and overall, the tension and pace of this action thriller are hard to beat.  Just don’t look for too much beyond the good guys against the bad.

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