After listening to the hype around this book for a year, I finally got around to reading it. I'll admit, when this came out last year, I didn't think it was my cup of tea. I think I confused it with something else that came out about the same time. Because after a few pages, I was hooked -- it also didn't even come close to matching the kind of story I thought it was (I didn't read the jacket copy). I spent the next 280 pages kicking myself for waiting to read this thing.
Nick Mason was a successful, but small-time criminal for years. He and his friends never got violent, but they sure were not "good" in any sense of the world -- things happen, people move on and Nick falls for a college girl. She has one rule: Nick picks her or crime. He picks her and the straight and narrow. A few years later, Nick's making a living, has a wonderful daughter and wife. The friend who moved away comes back and asks Nick to do one final job -- one that'll land him enough money to not have to worry about his family's future. Nick makes the fatal mistake and goes along -- and ends up serving a 25-year sentence.
Darius Cole, a crime boss -- the kind you read about or see in movies and hope that doesn't exist in real life -- who's still running a decently-sized empire from a prison he'll never leave takes an interest in Mason. He eventually makes Mason an offer -- Cole does a few things and Mason goes free. On the outside, he'll need to serve the remaining 20 years of his sentence, but he'll do so as Cole's employee. As his handler will tell him after he's released:
This isn't freedom. This is mobility. Don't get those things confused.
Set up in a very nice house, with a cover job better than he could've ever got on his own, Mason looks like he's got it made -- but when Quintero (his handler) calls with an assignment, he has to drop whatever he's doing and take care of the assignment. Period. His own well-being, as well as that of his (now) ex-wife and daughter, depend on it. The assignment can be as benign as following a rival of Cole's or as serious as murder -- it doesn't matter, Mason is responsible for carrying it out. Promptly.
His conviction overturned, his ex-still wants nothing to do him -- and won't let him have anything to do with his daughter. One of the detectives responsible for his conviction will not accept what he sees as a travesty of justice and will not stop until he can put Mason back where he belongs.
I cannot stress enough, this is not some tale of a falsely accused man becoming some sort of vigilante working outside the system -- we've all seen that story and this frequently feels like it. But Mason himself will tell you he deserved what happened to him. He's under no illusions about what he's doing and will be doing for the foreseeable future. This isn't a redemption story, either. He's not a good man -- he's a criminal who has a set of rules he lives by -- even if his new employer forces him to break some of those.
Which is why he's so compelling -- Hamilton has created a great character here. There's no reason to like Mason, there's little reason to root for him, we're supposed to be hoping that Det. Sandoval figures things out, puts Mason and Quintero away and dismantles Cole's business. But nope. Not a bit. Sandoval's a good guy, decent cop -- and most readers are going to want him to succeed except where it makes Mason's life difficult. That dynamic is just another part of what makes this book work.
I'm really at a loss to describe how well this book sinks its claws into you. It grabs you by the scruff of your neck (mixing metaphors, I know, hooks, claws, grabs . . . it does all three) and drags you along -- and you don't care. In fact, you enjoy it so much that you try to move faster than the book's pace.
The one good thing about waiting so long to read this is that I don't have to wait too long for the sequel -- Exit Strategy was released this week, and I'm licking my chops until I can get to it.
I'm on the verge of going overboard here, so I'm going to stop -- this is a heckuva thrill ride, and readers of thrillers, crime novels would be foolish to make the mistake I did by not reading this.