SIMON JENNER KNOWS HOW TO WRITE A PSYCHOPATH
The storyline for this novel begins a little over one week following the conclusion of the second novel in the Ethan Justice series, Relentless. This story also begins only a little over a month since we first met Ethan Justice in the first book, Origins.
Obviously and thankfully, Simon Jenner does not intend to let any grass grow under the proverbial feet of his main characters, Ethan Justice and Savannah Jones. In the first book they met and became a team, personally and professionally. In the second book, Ethan’s character was explored in greater detail and their teamwork with Herb Johnson and Earthguard was advanced. In this third novel, circumstances require that Ethan and Savannah work certain scenarios separately, rather than as a team, with Herb Johnson guiding them more by telephone than in person.
Our story opens with a prologue, set in Madrid, where Nick Nelson, a British mobster currently working out of Spain, meets with Faruq Saeed, an Islamic fundamentalist and highly successful international terrorist. By the time the prologue is finished, we know that there will be a bombing the next day in Malaga and that Faruq Saeed is a veritable angel compared to Nelson.
And, by the end of the book, we will have been exposed to the inner thoughts of Nelson at great depth. There will be no doubt in the reader’s mind that Simon Jenner knows how to write a 3-dimensional psychopath, a character that is insane, cruel and homicidal in one breath but compelling and sympathetic in the next. And Jenner maintains a consistent characterization of Nelson throughout the book – no surprises, no miracles, no suspension of disbelief required.
This depth of characterization is not limited to Nelson, however. We spend a great deal of time in Savannah’s head this time around. Since the first novel, we have known that she has had several serious setbacks in her short life, including the death of her mother. Throughout this novel, Jenner puts Savannah into situations that involve fists, knives, guns and rape. These situations are graphically described, tense, visually realistic and not for the feint of heart. And, situation by situation, Savannah is forced to deal with her victim complex and her flight responses in order to have the slightest chance of survival. Again, Jenner maintains a consistent characterization – no previously unknown abilities surface, no deus ex machina materializes.
From the first page, the plotline is executed logically and realistically. Right after being introduced to Nelson, we find our protagonists’ flight home from a Caribbean vacation diverted to that same town of Malaga where the bomb is supposed to explode. This is not “coincidence;” they are diverted because of an Earthguard training exercise, not because anyone in law enforcement knows about the INCENDIARY plans. Then we learn that Ethan’s sister, Rachel, is also in Malaga and is the girlfriend of Nelson’s stepson, Carl. Now, this feels “coincidental,” both the relationship and the venue. However, Jenner defends it quite logically: their relationship is long term; Carl owns a business there; he despises his stepfather and he is not part of Nelson’s organization.
From this point, the novel explodes, moving systematically back and forth between Ethan, Savannah and Nelson – what each is doing, thinking and planning in the same exact time frame. The plans made by both Nelson and Justice/Jones/Johnson come together, fall apart, shift to a new reality and move forward again with believability. The fight scenes and physical confrontations are easily visualized and capable of being followed logically with the mental eye. The tension mounts page by page until you just want to skim the scenes and get to the heart of the matter. But you don’t, because you know Jenner buries plot devices and clues to further developments in what seems like the most innocuous of paragraphs.
Over the four days that the novel encompasses, Jenner takes us from the first INCENDIARY device in the prologue to the final INCENDIARY device that, on the last page of the book, blows the series storyline up in our faces. No, he does not split up our protagonists nor does he end the book on a cliffhanger, but he does provide us with one hellacious set-up for the next novel. I do so look forward to that one.
I received a free electronic ARC copy of this novel from the author. While there were typos in that e-copy, they were mostly instances of missing punctuation and did not distract from the story. And since it was an ARC, those typos may well have been corrected in the final version. The fact that my copy was free did not in any way affect my opinion of the book.
Cover Art from Goodreads