Slash and Burn by Matt Hilton
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
I ended up picking up the third book in this series first with Slash and Burn, but it isn't detrimental to read these out of order. The book is fairly self-contained, and anything you might need to know about Hunter's previous adventures are given as an aside or in short sentences that give an adequate frame of references to readers. So I think it's okay to start here.
Matt Hilton's Joe Hunter series is a good choice for action/adventure fans who like Lee Child's Jack Reacher, Robert Crais' Joe Pike, and the character of John Reese from the television show "Person of Interest". If it's okay, I will make a few comparisons for readers like myself who can't enough of the tough guys who fight for the defenseless and kick some serious butt and take names (kickbutt artists).
Joe Hunter could probably sit down and have a cup of coffee with the other three characters. They might even start a "I Don't Take Crap And I Hate Bullies" Club. Henceforth, this concept will be abbreviated as IDTCAIHB in the rest of the review. In some ways, Joe Hunter also reminds me of Nate Garrett from Steve McHugh's urban fantasy series, in that he is a very lethal man who really doesn't like abusive people who take advantage of innocents. He seems to be a little more plugged into life than Jack Reacher, but he shares his ability to be brutal when necessary, although he has more of a conscience and feels a bit more regretful when he gets ugly with people. I think Hunter is much less of a loner than Reacher, and perhaps that is why he is more in touch with his emotions. I think more than John Reese (also more emotionally healthy). Oh, I should add that if Nate's invited, he'd drink tea, since he hates coffee.
Like most of the members of the IDTCAIHB club, Hunter has few friends and emotional connections. His besties are Rink and Harvey, both also tough as nails who have his back in a fight. I think it made it more realistic that Hunter did need help. He didn't come off as a superhero. He's vulnerable to all the things that affect most human beings, and he doesn't have any super-skills that inhibits a reader's ability to suspend disbelief. I like that he does have ethics/morals. They are more extreme in that he believes he's responsible for righting wrongs and dealing with injustice, not the police, since the police often fail to do what needs doing (his thoughts, not necessarily mine). Somewhat like Batman, but with more willingness to kill. While I am not advocating vigilantism, I can understand the reasons behind it (at least in fiction), and I admit that I am drawn to these types of characters who are there to help people and don't mind getting their hands dirty doing it. It satisfies that part of me that gets angry when I see gross injustice in society around me, although my personal ethics don't agree with an eye for an eye kind of justice. Fiction is a safe exploration of themes and concepts we don't condone or espouse in life, or so I think.
I could only give this book 3.5 stars, because I found the prose to be a bit simplistic. While I respect terse and concise writing, the writing seemed a bit facile at times. Matt Hilton is a competent writer, but I feel that his voice could be more distinctive and as a result, show the added complexities of a man like Hunter. While Hunter might seem like a simple man, there is an underlying thought process that members of the IDTCAIHB club have that is worthy of exploring. And this story deals with some heavy events. Yes, this is an action/adventure book, so the goal is not deep character exploration. But that doesn't mean that a little sprinkled in amongst the butt-kicking scenes would go amiss.
I have found that many action/adventure books don't effectively convey a romantic relationship. This is true of Slash and Burn. The embryonic emotional bond between Hunter and Kate went from 0 to 60 in too fast a time, and I couldn't quite buy into it. I would have preferred if the author either kept it light or used the page scenes more effectively to build romantic tension. Not enough to turn off romance hating readers, but enough to be believable.
The villains are not fluffy bunnies. Nope, they are varying degrees of morally bankrupt to seriously crazy. The Bolan twins are in a class all by themselves, really. I wasn't sure where the author was going, but the early pages of this book set up a suspenseful set of events that helps to drive the plot along. Huffman is the type of sociopath that seems more socially acceptable than vicious psychopaths like the Bolan twins, but I actually feel he's worse, because of the deep rot concealed under his smooth, handsome, sharply-dressed exterior. There are a few disposable villains that I feel could have been given more depth, since I don't like when an author sets up characters just to get killed off, aka Redshirts, to the Trekkies. That might work on an episodic TV show, but not so well in a novel. In general, I think the characterization could have used more development, and that's a major issue with this novel, along with the simplistic writing tone.
Readers looking for an escapist action/adventure novel with a IDTCAIHB kind of hero might consider adding Joe Hunter to their list of potential readers. I think that Reacher, Pike and Nate Garrett's books are better written, but this was a good read, and I did like Hunter. He's worth adding to my action/adventure reading list.
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