BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Taking a cue from the headlines – after rescuing U.S. students being held as spies in Iran, Joe Ledger and Echo Team are pulled into an ancient hostile agreement between Christian and Muslim factions, with an old foe, some legendary mutations and the past of the DMS leadership complicating their fight against a nuclear holocaust.
PROS: Maberry keeps the pace moving with short chapters, wise-cracking Joe Ledger, lots of action and flashbacks; blends in historical background with enough realism to make you check the facts; large world and history shaking conspiracies.
CONS: Need some new villains; hopefully background on Church/Deacon/St. Germaine in a future book.
BOTTOM LINE: Fast-paced, with Joe Ledger getting more and more complicated with each novel, Assassin’s Code is easily the best in the series since Patient Zero…and may be the best of the four.
Thus far, Joe Ledger has been drafted into the Department of Military Sciences to take on zombie-like genetic mutations (Patient Zero), redundantly battled more genetic mutations while suffering great personal loss (The Dragon Factory), and taken out the Seven Kings, manipulators of the world (The King of Plagues). Through it all, Ledger has become a more complex character, morphing from a machine-like fighter into a man with a history as a teenage victim of violence that turned him into the man he is, with a will do to what is necessary in spite of the voices in his head. And along the way he picked up a very cool dog, Ghost.
The fourth book in the series, Assassin’s Code, starts with Ledger, fresh off of saving students captured as “spies” by the Iranian government, coerced into a meeting by a female sniper’s red dot. An Iranian diplomat of questionable honesty and morals (as all villains are) feeds Ledger information about a nuclear threat: several bombs that have been planted in Middle Eastern oil fields, with one possibly on US soil. Several interested parties are listening or interested in this conversation, including the (of course) beautiful female sniper, part of an all female sniper gang (can you say “made for the movies”?). Ledger and DMS must decide if the threat is real, which of multiple conflicting parties has their finger on the trigger and track down the nukes in time.
The factors that turn Assassin’s Code into something more than your normal spy novel I would classify as SPOILERS. Those of you that WANT TO AVOID THAT should turn back now and not click to read the rest of this review after the jump.
Soon after this meeting, everyone and their mothers (pun intended) tries to kill Ledger and get the information from him. There is much more going on than an “us-vs.-them” scenario; the Red Order (militant Christians) vs. the Tariqa (militant Muslims); the Sabbathians (monster hunters) vs. the Upierczi; (the monsters) the Upierczi vs. their former allies, the Red Order; and the Mothers of the Fallen and Arklight vs. the Upierczi…and all of them at one point or the other, take a poke at poor Joe Ledger, who gives as good as he gets. And somehow, Hugo Vox, the villain from The King of Plagues, is involved.
Maberry has had a great talent for action writing, and that has been displayed in each of the novels. But with Assassin’s Code, what could have been a convoluted mess comes together with both the revelation of an ages old conspiracy and the deepening insights into Ledger’s mind and slightly askew morals. Ledger has compartmentalized his thoughts into roles: Cop, Warrior and Civilized Man.
“The Warrior was still freaked out about the goon with the fangs. When you spend most of your life training in martial arts, military technique, and the specialized skills of special ops as I have, you come to accept that combat in all of it forms is a science. It’s largely mathematical. If you hit someone in a specific part of the body at a precise angle and with sufficient force there is a predictable response, give or take some necessary variables. The same applies for a wide range of things, from lifting a barbell full of weights to shooting a pistol at a target. For some of this stuff there are thousands of years of trial and error as well as data collection to support what we know. Not what we guess but what we know. When you separate it all from sports or esoteric pursuits, combat is a science. I’ve dedicated my life to that science; if I have a church, then that’s it.
However, what I just experienced did not make sense according to anything I knew or believed.”
Maberry, of course, leaves the series open for more Joe Ledger stories, and finally provides just a glimpse of insight into Church/Deacon/St. Germaine, peeling back the covers a bit like he did with the last novel. But one wonders what other genetic monsters, ancient evils and conspiracies of ancient civilizations are left for Ledger and DMS to battle? Writing these type of stories was easy a few decades ago was easy…you always made the Soviet Union the bad guys! As much interaction as Ledger has had with the genetically enhanced bad guys, this reader has to wonder when does Ledger get modified, either accidentally (Upierczi blood?) or on purpose?