Trade-Off (Steven Hunter #1), by James Becker (as Tom Kasey)

Eight stars

Long a fan of James Becker’s work, I chose to read one of his earlier works. Written under the Tom Kasey pseudonym, that did not scale back any of the excitement that I have come to expect in the author’s work. When a body is discovered in rural Montana, local officials are baffled, less because of the murder than the fact that a human femur is lodged into the skull. Willing to admit that they are out of their depth, the FBI is called in to investigate. Agents arrive with a seconded Steven Hunter, who has spent much of his time in the British military, seeking to find answers. Nothing seems to be flowing as smoothly as Hunter would like, when he is alerted to another baffling case that involves women of a child-bearing age going missing in the region. As Hunter’s partner goes missing, he begins trying to get to the core of the matter, which appears to trace all the way up the chain of command. As Hunter uses his stealth and gritty determination, he soon realises that there is some project, code named ‘Roland Oliver’ taking place around Nevada, but is completely unsure what it all means. With a killer on the loose in the region and women disappearing as part of this project, Hunter will have to take matters into his own hands, or die trying. Becker offers up an interesting story that does not slow until the final page, keeping the reader in suspense throughout. Recommended to those who enjoy a great thriller, particularly fans of James Becker.

This was a great start to a new (albeit small) series by James Becker, who can always be counted on to entertain his reading base. Set entirely in the United States, the novel explores corruption at the highest level while offering a rural feel to the story not seen in many of his past work. The introduction of Steven Hunter is sure to keep the reader guessing what will come next. Hunter brings not only his British mannerisms to the story, but also his approach to police work. Add to that, a military background offers survival and covert skills that prove useful when being sought by the highest ranks of the US Government. Hunter leaves no stone unturned and shows that no one is beyond his target list, so long as it brings about a timely solution. There is much to this man and the reader receives only a glimpse in this first novel, but the tease factor is one that will surely help readers return for more. Other characters find their way into the story and help to offer a better all-around story by complementing or clashing with Hunter throughout. The reader will surely enjoy many of the plot lines that develop, especially with a cast of diverse characters to propel the story forward. The premise of the book is great, with a few storylines running in parallel throughout. The reader can feast upon them all or choose one to their liking, keeping the novel moving at a fast pace. With a killer on the loose and a government program running under the radar, Becker piques the interest of the reader from the outset, but does not take things in expected directions simply for the sake of it all. While I admit I was taken aback by one of the end results, Becker substantiated it enough to lessen my eyebrow raise. His use of short and longer chapters pulls the reader into the middle of the story and leaves them hanging at various points, begging for ‘just a little more’. I cannot get my hands on the follow-up novel fast enough to see what else is in store for Steven Hunter, as he leaves his indelible mark throughout.

Kudos, Mr. Becker, for another great novel. I can only hope that you’ll keep churning out ideas to entertain your reading base.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: