Publish Date: October 10th, 2014
Pages: 367 pages
Synopsis: Detective Samantha McCall and her team are brought in to investigate what appears to be random accidents and a mugging gone wrong. As the team investigate each of their assigned cases in soon becomes clear there is more to the deaths. Across the ocean in Great Britain, Detective John Steel prepares to leave his home town and return to New York after following a lead to his parents murder. However as he plans his return fresh information leads him on to a cruise ship and probably the deadliest case of his career. As the clock counts down on their cases one thing becomes clear, for one of them this may be their last case…ever. (Source: Amazon product description.)
Short Version: Evocative and twisty murder mystery that kept me reading, though let down in the technicalities of storytelling.
Longer Version: My “shorter version” might seem familiar, because it’s word-for-word how I felt about Syron-Jones’ first outing into the world of John Steel, Rise of a Phoenix. You can find that review here. The author’s strength in Phoenix was definitely his attention to detail (particularly the twisty, complicated ones to do with bombs, guns, and the military – an area of expertise for him). It’s the same here, with so much colour and texture thrown into his action sequences that I completely suspended my belief and believed every word he wrote. He also throws in some wonderful details more reminiscent of horror than straight-up thriller, such as this beauty, when our hero John Steel is inspecting a body:
When he looked closer, Steel could see that someone had pushed cocktail umbrellas into the flesh of the man’s face.
I don’t know any other writers who could possibly have written that line, and it’s what makes Jones’s writing unique.
It’s good to see old characters return, especially John Steel and Samantha McCall. When the story begins they are separated by an ocean and some misunderstandings, though lovers of romance needn’t worry – they are brought together in great detail.
I also gratefully welcomed back small but colourful characters from the previous book, as well as some intriguing new ones.
Once again I was ambivalent toward the main character himself, John Steel, particularly in a couple of the earlier chapters as he gets his bearings on a cruise ship. There are lots of instances of his physical attractiveness being pointed out, which felt intrusively authorial (“have I mentioned my character is hot? Because he’s hot” stuff). There’s also a running sort of gag where every woman who so much as looks at him is apparently floored by his attractiveness. It felt like I was being informed Steel is attractive, rather than shown his attractiveness. To me, his attractiveness came to the fore through his quirky sense of humour, such as his trying to explain his way out of being roughed up by some threatening-looking goons with a lesson on spelling.
In most other departments, Jones really puts in the hard yards at description, particularly character description, giving each of his creations time and opportunity to shine. This throws the pacing out slightly – he sometimes dedicates the same amount of time to describing a serious plot twist as he does describing a waitress who has one line of dialogue, who is not seen again once she has taken her order and walks “offstage.”
The pacing was also thrown a little by the formatting – often a new paragraph begins with a new point-of-view character in a new location at a different time, with nothing really separating it from the scene before, as was the case while I was reading Phoenix.
Phoenix also had some spelling, grammar and punctuation errors that negatively affected my reading experience, which I feel is an issue with a book being sold to the general public. The quality of work between Phoenix and Unity is improved, though in some cases there were still a few punctuation mistakes and awkward turns of phrase.
I won’t spoil the plot for you, but will instead say that it is very tightly plotted, with loads of thrills and spills and explosions and dead people, and it would make for an excellent action film. Jones’s style is so strikingly visual; the quick, immediate scenes so clearly written with cinema in mind. And, of course, the ending is both satisfying in terms of this instalment of John Steel’s story, as well as setting up the probability of a sequel.