Tuesday, August 10, 2010

“Lock Down”, by Sean Black (Bantam)


Introducing Ryan Lock: Bodyguard, problem-solver, all-round hard man

It may be Christmas in New York, but for ex-military bodyguard Ryan Lock it’s business as usual.

His mission: to protect the CEO of America’s largest pharmaceutical company. But, when an apparently botched assassination attempt goes wrong, leaving bodies littering the streets of midtown Manhattan, Lock is drawn into a complex web of intrigue.

Lock’s search for the truth takes him from the rooftops of a New York skyscraper to a heavily fortified warehouse on the Hudson where he uncovers an explosive secret.

As the clock ticks towards midnight on New Year’s Eve, all routes into and out of Manhattan are sealed, and Lock realizes that not only is his own life in terrible danger but so are the lives of millions of others...

Introducing a new action hero to a genre growing exponentially in popularity and number, Lock Down is a solid debut. Ryan Lock, the hero in question, is working for Meditech, a stereotypical medical corporation. The company is hounded by animal rights protestors and activists – from public demonstrations in front of their Manhattan offices, to more violent activities, the activists have been a considerable thorn in Meditech’s side for some time.

Two seemingly unconnected crimes – the apparently botched assassination attempt mentioned in the synopsis, and also the kidnap of a former employee’s son – Ryan Lock’s life is tipped upside down as he takes it upon himself to investigate the boy’s disappearance. As he delves deeper into the case, he realises that there was more to the kidnapping than a ransom grab, and he soon finds himself fighting for his life. He is aided in his mission by Ty Johnson, a former marine who recruited Lock out of the British military and into private security; and Carrie, a beautiful journalist and former love-interest of Lock’s.

In reality, Lock Down is almost two novels – the kidnap and rescue, which is dealt with in the first half of the novel; followed by the conspiracy-gone-wrong behind the kidnapping and the deadly repercussions of Lock’s investigation. It works well, but around halfway, the plot’s momentum faltered a little. It’s clear that a lot of this is aimed at introducing us fully to Lock, and in this the novel succeeds very well – he’s a likeable character, tough and focussed, but not above normal human emotion and weakness (as a simple example, his scenes with Angel, a rescued dog, are great and should make you chuckle – as well as want a dog…). In this respect, we get a little more than some other fictional action heroes, who sometimes seem to be written purely to create a “I’m considerably tougher than thou” superman. Lock is human, fallible, and an interesting protagonist.

Black writes in very pacey prose - you’ll whizz through the pages of Lock Down (in my first sitting, around lunch, I burned through 74 pages). The main character is likeable, and definitely in the mould of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp, and Kyle Mills’s Mark Beamon. As entertainment, this works as a thoroughly enjoyable novel.

I would hesitate to say this novel is cliché, but it was somewhat predictable – no doubt fans of the genre will recognise some of the above description from innumerable other action-adventure series and thrillers. From the internal struggles and company politics at Meditech, to Lock’s idealised-action-man nature, Black is not reinventing the wheel here, but his take on the genre is very confident and assured for a debut author.

The novel didn’t quite meet the level of Flynn’s or Mills’s earlier novels (which just seem to delve deeper and with more confidence, and just feel meatier in terms of plot and character), though many similar themes are shared and equally well done. I would say this is certainly better than James Patterson’s recent output, but not yet on the same level as Flynn’s novels. I found it easier to get into Lock Down than Andrew Grant’s debut, Even.

On the strength of this novel, I would say Black was akin to an apprentice thriller writer: his work is of great quality, near-indistinguishable from the ‘masters’ in content and themes, but under the surface it’s just not quite of the same quality. For example, the antagonists of the novel are a little predictable and too-familiar from other thrillers (novels and movies), this meant they lacked the menace of some antagonists we’ve come to read about – such as Kyle Craig, Alex Cross’s nemesis from the earlier James Patterson novels. It’s clear that the bulk of Black’s energies went into making Ryan Lock as three-dimensional and realistic as possible, at the unintended expense of fully rounding out the bad-guys and peripheral characters.

We’ll see if the author managed to raise his game with Dead Lock, but I’m confident that he has (the premise is very cool). Lock Down is a solid debut novel, and one that reads better than some established authors.

Definitely an author to watch, I will certainly be reading all of the future Ryan Lock novels – may there be many more to come.

Also try: Vince Flynn, Kyle Mills, Lee Child, Andrew Grant, Brett Battles, Alex Berenson, Chris Ryan, James Patterson, Joseph Finder, Jeff Abbott

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for such a detailed review, I've read all the Vinceflynn books so I'll have to try Sean Black!