Predator One by Jonathan Maberry (St. Martin’s Press, April 7th) Evil comes in the forms of drones in the fantastic new addition to Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series. Joe and his team are fresh off an ops run that went bad when Joe and Rudy decide a game of baseball (Phillies vs Orioles) would be just the ticket to relaxation. If you’ve followed this series, you know that poor Joe rarely gets any downtime, and this baseball game is no exception. Joe’s father is also present in addition to decorated war hero Colonel Roger Douglas. What looks like a remote controlled toy airplane buzzes the crowd and it’s at first thought to be a nod to Colonel Douglas. Joe has a really bad feeling about it, and it’s indeed bad. The airplane is a drone carrying bombs, and it’s dropping them on a stadium full of people. Joe and Ghost desperately try to make it through the stampede in order to find help, or find the bad guys, but they’re both nearly trampled to death just fighting through the terrified mob. It’s a harrowing, devastating scene, and it only kicks off the first of many of such scenes during this book.
We’re used to our hero getting battered and bruised, and if you read the series you know how much Joe struggles with the side of him that enjoys killing the bad guys. However, for a while now, Joe has other things to fight for, like Junie, and Ghost, and the friends and comrades that he holds dear. Let’s put it this way, he doesn’t really worry about that side of himself in this book at all. He’s going to bring the bad guys (and girls) down, and hesitation isn’t in the cards. Nor is mercy. In this series, Maberry has a history of upping the stakes in every book with his baddies. They’re always complicated and always inventive. There’s a female villain in here that is a disgusting human being ,yet still, when she asks her boss if she can come home if she completes this mission successfully, you can see the little girl inside that was never taught to be anything but a killer. Don’t get me wrong, she needs to be brought down, but there is still a tiny glimmer of humanity in there, even if it’s not enough to ever redeem her.
On the other hand, in Toys, we have character that’s desperately seeking redemption after his actions with the Seven Kings. Junie has taken him under her wing, and he still struggles constantly with the horrible things he’s done, and doesn’t feel he’s deserving of acceptance, or a second chance. Near the end of the book, though, Toys does something that shows him for the hero that he’s able to be, and it’s heartwrenching.
Yes, this is a Joe Ledger book, which has always meant fast –paced, with short chapters that jump from Joe’s POV to the bad guys, and between the present and the past, at breakneck speed. If it’s action you want, you’ll get plenty, as well as always fantastic fight scenes. But, at its core, it’s a character driven thriller, and that’s what I love most about these books. It’s one of the few series where the characters feel like real people to me, and I’m likely to cry at least once per book. This is also a very timely book, since the main weapon that the bad guys have at their disposal is drones, as well as the ability to hack into a specific type of software that’s used to automate cars, submarines, and even planes. There’s a reason that this book is called Predator One. It’s a play on Air Force One, so yes, the president is one pain in the rear that Church must deal with in addition to all of the horror that’s already going on. There’s really not much more terrifying then an individual or group of evil people with deep pockets that decide that they’re going to cause chaos and death on a mass scale. Like I said, Jonathan Maberry ups the ante for Joe and his crew every single time, and in this one, the evil hits very, very close to home for the DMS. It was also nice to see the usually Zen and calm Rudy kick some significant ass this time around.
If you haven’t discovered this consistently fantastic series, now is the time. I honestly don’t see why you couldn’t jump in at this point, but you’d miss so much awesome by not starting at the beginning, with Patient Zero.