PROS: The most realistic and terrifying threat the Department of Military Sciences has faced; none of the characters feel safe; fast paced and gripping.
CONS: The protagonists are inactive for much of the novel; not enough Ledger time; if the villain reveal at the end is supposed to be a surprise it isn’t.
BOTTOM LINE: Maberry continues to raise the stakes, pushing Ledger and the DMS to the breaking point.
Nothing in life is certain except death, taxes, and the next Joe Ledger Novel. Maberry’s series of techno thrillers has remained a constant comfort in my life since Patient Zero released way back in 2009. Through dedication Maberry has produced a new Joe Ledger novel annually and despite this intense schedule the series has only continued to grow stronger. Over the years Ledger and the Department of Military Sciences have battled zombies, super soldiers, chimeras, biblical plagues, vampires, zombies again, and now Skynet! Predator One sees the team facing off against drone terrorism.
Drone warfare has made plenty of headlines over the past couple of years. The commercialization of drones seemed to be one of the bigger stories of 2014. Maberry takes all of this and creates a frighteningly plausible terror scenario. The Seven Kings are back — or at least one of them is anyway. The Gentleman, lone survivor of the secret group, is on his death-bed but before he passes from this world he wishes to exact revenge on the agency that has continually foiled his plans. Now I’m not 100% positive whether or not the Gentleman’s identity is supposed to be a secret. His real name isn’t revealed until the end but there are enough blatant “clues” that I started to suspect it all might be a red herring (it’s not). I’ll admit that I was happy to see the character reappear.
The Seven Kings felt a little cartoony to me when they first entered the picture way back in book three, The King of Plagues, but that is no longer the case with Predator One. There may only be one “King” left but the threat he poses to the world is far greater than anything we’ve yet experienced in a Maberry novel. As Alfred says in The Dark Knight, “Some men just want to watch the world burn” and the Gentleman certainly falls under this category. Predator One is, without exaggeration, the most brutal Joe Ledger novel to date.
Readers of this series have likely grown comfortable. Not since book two, The Dragon Factory, has one of the primary good guys died. There’s been a high degree of civilian casualties (especially in the last book, Code Zero) and the DMS redshirts that get stuck on Ledger’s team have a high mortality rate but no matter how dastardly the villains, no matter how terrible the evil scheme, Joe Ledger always saves the day. Predator One goes a long way toward rebuilding the diminished horror aspect of the series. I felt as though the characters were in actual danger. The terror attack at the baseball game is harrowing and heart wrenching — it’s the sort of iconic attack that would leave America reeling for years to come. Every component of the Gentleman’s plan raises the stakes and the death toll. Predator One does for commercial drones what Jaws did for sharks. Terrorism is all about fear and Maberry does not hesitate to embrace that in his writing. I hope that Maberry shows the fallout of Predator One in the next book because after all that transpired America should never be the same.
Likewise I don’t suspect the characters will ever be the same after the events of Predator One. Except for Ledger. Joe Ledger never really changes, and honestly who would want him to? The Gentleman goes for the DMS’s throat, targeting not just the agents but their families as well. Somehow Maberry even manages to accomplish the impossible — he made me care about Rudy Sanchez. That’s the nature of Predator One, it cuts so deep that I was able to set aside my loathing of Ledger’s best friend. I’ve even come around to liking former baddie Alexander “Toys” Chismer, despite myself. All the other favorites are present and accounted for from Top and Bunny to Bug and Church (seriously, when the hell is he going to get his own damn spinoff/prequel novel) and Junie Flynn, who I have come to adore. Even Violin (I’d also settle for a Violin spinoff novel) makes an all too brief appearance.
My biggest complaint about Predator One is that the good guys seem to remain static for the majority of the novel, acted upon by the Gentleman rather than acting of their own volition. Ledger spends a lot of time at a hospital recovering from the baseball game attack. Junie, Toys, and Rudy spend a good deal of time at another hospital with the comatose Circe O’Tree. And then Ledger and Rudy head to a third hospital to investigate a peculiar drone attack. A lot is happening but our protagonists feel slightly impotent in the midst of it all. And perhaps, to give Maberry credit, that’s where the heavier degree of tension and horror comes from.
The book moves at a blistering pace and Maberry’s short chapters will keep you turning the pages well after you resolved to put the book down. The perspective jumps around from Ledger’s first person narrative to the third person perspective of his allies, the villains, and some of the victims of the attacks. This gives readers both a personal and a broader view of events as they happen. Because of the scale of the Gentleman’s plan I was expecting/hoping that the plot of Predator One might carry into the next book, Kill Switch (title not yet final.) Relatively late into the book the Department of Military Sciences is still in the dark as to the nature of the threat and I was unsure Maberry could wrap it up in a hundred pages or so . Thus far each book has been “standalone” to a degree but I was salivating at the idea of a larger arc. Unfortunately that turned out not to be the case but the finale is still fulfilling and felt far from rushed.
As far as I am aware all of the Joe Ledger Novels are upwards of 400 pages and yet I’ve still managed to breeze through each in a weekend or so. Assassin’s Code remains my favorite of the series (it’ll be difficult to top) but Predator One displays a continued improvement while providing fans with everything they love so much about Joe Ledger and the Department of Military Sciences.