Book Review: Fearless by M. W. Craven
Ben Koenig is in a hotel restaurant when he realizes that the cops are onto him. It’s too late for him to duck out the back. Besides, his practiced eye tells him that they’ve instituted a cordon several blocks around him. A quick glance at the TV informs him that the entire nation has been put on alert. His face is on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, and the local authorities are about to bring him in.
While his training would allow him to swiftly disarm his captors and escape, his curiosity prompts him to go along with the arrest. Thing is, Koenig isn’t a criminal. Someone very important has clearly had to pull a lot of strings in order to initiate a national manhunt to find him after his six years on the run. Koenig wants to know who and why.
His questions are swiftly answered in a small town jail cell, when his former boss in the Special Operations Group of the US Marshals shows up to debrief him. Mitchell Burridge fought tooth and nail to keep Koenig on active duty after a head injury should have sidelined him. Mitch is still pretty sore that Koenig just up and disappeared instead of asking for help with the problem that caused him to abandon his previous life. Surprised by Mitch’s candor, Koenig asks:
“I head up a federal agency,” he said. “Of course I knew.”
“Then you know exactly why I couldn’t go to you. Why I couldn’t go to anyone.”
He shook his head. “Wrong. It was a SOG problem, not a Ben Koenig problem. It wasn’t something you had to do on your own. You didn’t have to go all Jack Reacher on us.”
“A problem shared?”
Mitch took a silent moment. Then he said, “I never stopped looking for you, Ben. You know that, right?”
The US Marshals are tough, loyal and look out for their own. But sometimes, not even their combined forces can solve a particularly tricky problem. Case in point one: the reason Koenig went completely off-grid six years back. Case in point two: the reason Mitch pulled out all these potentially illegal stops to find him.
Two months ago, Mitch’s only daughter Martha disappeared while studying at Georgetown University. No one saw anything. No one knows anything. The combined might of the US Marshals, the FBI and Metropolitan police have turned up squat. Mitch is no fool. He knows that Martha vanishing without a trace, with no ransom demand and no clues, means she’s most likely dead. All he wants now is to find out what happened to her, and to recover her remains. And if Koenig exacts a little revenge for him on the side, well, so much the better.
For Koenig isn’t your average federal investigator. The head injury he sustained hasn’t damaged his functioning, with one critical exception. The portion of his brain that regulates fear no longer responds to stimulus. After pulling some strings, Mitch got Koenig into elite combat training in order to take advantage of this inability to flinch, before putting him back in the field. While working as part of a team, Koenig relied on his people to do the risk assessment that would ensure the entire unit’s safety. On his own, his inability to process fear makes him take bigger risks than most people would be willing to even consider. He’s now become Mitch’s last hope in finding Martha.
As Koenig picks up her trail, he is, in turn, tracked by a shadowy organization intent on eliminating any threats to its existence. Those aren’t the only criminals keeping an eye out for him though, as a five million dollar bounty on his head makes him an attractive target now that he’s been forced out of hiding. Will he be able to find the answers his friend and former boss seeks, while surviving a veritable gamut of bad guys intent on seeing him dead?
Much like his fictional predecessor Jack Reacher, Koenig starts out as a lonely drifter whose startling capacity for violence belies a keen mind and lively wit. Unlike Reacher, Koenig is far less interested in romance, though his relationship with former colleague Jen Draper has an undeniable underlying sizzle:
She handed me a paper file and I eagerly took it. “Take a look. That’s everything we could find and it isn’t much. Someone who knew what they were doing deleted both his home and office computer files. It was unrecoverable. We couldn’t find anything in the cloud either.”
“Luddite,” she muttered. “I’ll try to put this in words you might understand. The cloud is like a magic box that computer wizards put their spells in to keep them safe. Is that simple enough for you?”
Filled with twists, turns and healthy dollops of humor, this action-packed thriller is an adrenaline ride from start to finish. Koenig himself is a fascinating protagonist humanized not only by his reversals of fortune, but also by his relationships with the people around him. I love that this is the start of a series, as the ending chapters reveal tantalizing secrets that point to even more cinematic adventures ahead.