Marshall's Law by Ben Sanders is the 2nd book in the Marshall Grade series.
Ben Sanders’s 2nd book featuring Marshall Grade has all the elements of intrigue, action, and purpose found in his 1st book, American Blood. I listened to the audiobook and found it very easy to follow, and the wonderful actor, George Newbern, did an outstanding job with the narration. It was helped along by Sanders beginning each chapter with the character whose point of view was featured. I listen to audiobooks daily, so I know immediately if a narrator doesn’t hit the mark. George’s performance was spot on.
Though Marshall is a continuing character, there’s no need to read the American Blood to fully enjoy Marshall’s Law. However, I imagine you’ll go back and read it after meeting Marshall.
Not only is Marshall, a former undercover cop, in the Witness Protection Program, he has hidden himself from everyone. Only one person communicates with him: Lucas Cohen, the federal agent who helped him get into the program. When Lucas is kidnapped and two of his agents are critically wounded in an effort to find where Marshall is, the former cop knows it’s important to find out who’s leading the charge and take care of it.
“What do you want?”
The woods dark and brittle, silenced by frost. The branches all snow-daubed. The guy said, “The Santa Fe division of the Marshals Service has an ex-NYPD officer in witness protection. The guy’s name is James Marshall Grade. He normally just goes by Marshall.”
Cohen didn’t answer, the fear coming back now. They didn’t want him. He was just the means to an end, an expendable informant. He glanced around. The track terminated just in front of the truck. He guessed it was a fire road, which meant the chance of someone coming by in December was about zero.
The guy stood up and aimed the gun at Cohen’s head. He said, “This is the part where you start talking.”
“I don’t know where he is.” Trying to keep his voice even.
This means Marshall is heading back to New York City, where most of his enemies would celebrate his return to town with a big bang.
Sanders does an excellent job of setting up the mystery. Marshall has no idea which of his many enemies wants him dead. Chloe Asaro, former lover and mobster’s daughter, or someone from the dozens of cases he solved successfully? But which one? How will he find out who it is? After all, even his old informants know he’s a target now.
The tension is built slowly and relentlessly. It increases from another angle when Lucas decides his friend is probably going to need some help. I do feel the action was slowed somewhat by Sanders taking the time to show the same action from the point of view of two characters. The reader knows what happened. There was no need to show how the other character felt about it by going through it again.
In spite of this, the action is constant as Marshall steadily works his way through New York, being chased and shot at while trying to find out who’s after him. He goes through former heroin dealers and former colleagues at the NYPD, gaining a little information with his progress and facing death almost at every turn.
Meanwhile, Lucas isn’t far behind, often walking in Marshall’s steps—though his approach is somewhat smoother since he is an active agent. Eventually, both of them find it’s notorious businessman Dexter Vine who wants Marshall’s head on a silver platter. But Marshall still has no idea why.
Along the way, we hear from Ludo Coltrane, the psychopath who plans to complete Dexter’s plan. Ludo is a fascinating character. On the one hand, he’s a detail-oriented killer without a conscience. On the other hand, he takes care of his invalid mother, who’s constantly yelling at him from her bed upstairs. Here, Sanders follows one of the first rules of good writing: no character is completely good and no character is completely bad.
He didn’t get home until after four. He had a place up in Jackson Heights, in that last little segment between Astoria Boulevard and the Grand Central Parkway, where it curved in against LaGuardia. The real estate agent called it a traveler’s dream, only a short walk to catch your plane, the downside being you had to put putty in your windows to stop them from rattling.
He parked in the driveway and let himself in the front door, his mother screaming, “Ludo, is that you?” and the trash smelling ripe, even in this cold.
He closed the door and slid the bolts across.
“Yeah, Mom, it’s me. Burglars are quieter.”
“It’s just me, I promise.”
“You get my yarn?”
“Yeah. I got your yarn.”
He could hear her TV, the little spells of canned laughter. He went past the stairs into the kitchen and switched on the light. The dishes were still on the rack. He could smell burnt egg from the omelet he’d made her earlier, not as bad as the fetid trash.
He took the packet of potato chips from the cupboard and ate them one at a time, watching his feet as he daydreamed, walking circuits of the table. Floor squeaking and the food crunching dully as he chewed.
“What are you eating?”
“You should be eating real dinner.”
“This is just a snack.”
“You get my yarn.”
“Yeah. I got your yarn.”
This scene certainly gives you a picture of a dismal life and the two people who occupy it. There’s not a lot of description of them, but you can easily picture them and the sights, sounds, and smells of where they live.
Fans of noir and gritty murder mysteries will love this one. Though fairly young, Sanders shows a real knack for this kind of story, and he gives his characters the depth and believability needed to make it a good read. By the time you get to the end of the book, you’re as out of breath as Marshall.
Listen to an audio excerpt from Marshall's Law!
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Leigh Neely is managing editor of two regional magazines in Central Florida. When she’s not working or reading, she’s writing fiction with her co-author, Jan Powell. Awakening Magic by Neely Powell is their latest release. Haunting Magic, the second book is he series, will be out later this year.