Fresh Meat: Outlaw by Mark Sullivan

Outlaw by Mark Sullivans
Outlaw by Mark Sullivans
Outlaw by Mark Sullivan is the second book in the Robin Monarch thriller series (available October 22, 2013).

Some thrillers take a ripped-from-today’s-headlines scenario, tart it up, and turn it loose on a recognizable slice of the real world. If there’s disbelief to be suspended, it comes in small doses. Other thrillers, on the other hand, require you throw away that disbelief all in one chunk right up front, then let the plot unspool more-or-less naturally in the alternate world they set up—a world that looks like but doesn’t necessarily act like the world we live in.

Outlaw belongs to the second type. Once you make that leap of faith, you get an efficient, Ludlumesque international chase story. That first step’s a doozy, though.

Sullivan is an ex-journalist with twelve mystery/thrillers to his solo credit. Like many other authors working in this genre, he’s also a two-book graduate of the James Patterson fiction factory, although luckily his personal writing style seems to have survived the experience. This all says that he knows what he’s doing, and can pull together an entertaining story and keep it going in a professional manner.

The setup: nefarious goings-on have led to a conference between the Indian and Chinese foreign ministers and the American Secretary of State. Of all places, they decide to meet on the oil tanker Niamey, in the middle of the pirate-infested South China Sea, with no escort. Of course, the following happens:

The captain triggered the mic, and tried to shout over him, “May Day! May Day! This is the Niamey. Position . . .”

O’Hara glanced at the GPS readout over the helm. But before he could spit out the longitude and latitude coordinates, the helmsman dove for the floor behind the American, the Chinese, and the Indian, who were heading toward the door, shouting into their own radios, demanding reinforcements topside.

A fifth attacker floated by the bridge at less than ten feet. He had the butt of a Kalashnikov rifle slammed into his hip and sprayed bullets at them. The American was hit in the back. So were the Chinese and Indian. The captain grabbed for the shotgun, which the Chinese had dropped, intending to provide cover for the men coming from below.

O’Hara never had the chance.

He heard an explosion and then nothing ever again.

The helmsman lowered the pistol he’d taken from the body of the dead American. He dug in his pocket for his own radio and said in dialect, “Tell him to stop singing. Bridge is clear. Deck controlled. I’m disabling SHIPLOC.”

The U.S. President, despite having the most expensive and capable war machine in history at his fingertips, calls in Robin Monarch, a burned-out ex-Ranger living in Argentina, to lead the rescue of the abducted diplomats. Before you can say “Jason Bourne,” Monarch is dashing around Southeast Asia, hot on the twisted trail of the people holding the Secretary of State hostage, and the people who pull their strings, and the people who pull their strings.

Read that setup again. Now you know why I say there’s substantial jettisoning of disbelief involved.

Once you decide to just go with it, though, Sullivan gives you a rapid-fire tour of the seamy parts of the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong, all rendered atmospherically and with enough telling detail to suggest the author spent some time there. Clocks tick, crosses are doubled, and the Big Bad’s numberless legions appear at the most inconvenient times and places to keep things moving smartly. The set-pieces are usually a natural outgrowth of the proceedings and typically have consequences, not always the case in stories of this nature. The action sequences themselves are handled crisply, for the most part avoiding the weapons porn common elsewhere. An example:

Knowing that he’d blown the air right out of her, he spun low and sprang. She was bent over, disbelief written all over her face, but trying to raise the two guns. The blade of Monarch’s left hand struck her on a nerve center on the inside of the right wrist, causing her grip to sag and a gun—his gun— to clatter to the floor. At the same time, Monarch’s right hand swung in a counterclockwise motion hooking her left elbow as he stepped into her blind spot. His left hand reached over and around the back of her neck. He hooked his thumb in her shirt collar, and then went to his knees twisting and pulling both of his hands inward and down. The motion spun her and left her in a backward arch, her left arm barred and her neck throttled. Her gun fell into his lap. It had all taken less than two seconds.

Monarch, now a professional thief, is the requisite omnicompetent, loner alpha male, but he’s an alpha male with a Good Cause – orphans, no less. His Chinese and Indian sidekicks are sometimes useful, though mostly along for the ride. Monarch’s usual team of misfits provide support as needed; only one (his female fixer, with whom he is not, thankfully, intimately involved) gets any significant face time of her own. Outlaw is very much Monarch’s show. This is Monarch’s fifth literary outing; the soon-to-appear sixth is set up at the end, so if you like him, there’s more where this came from.

Do you like Ludlum – globetrotting covert ops, secret global cabals, Blofeld-like supervillains and all? If so, you’ll like this. Outlaw is very much in that mold, with all that implies. Don’t ask questions and don’t think too hard – just let the plot happen and you’ll have a good time.


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Lance Charnes is an emergency manager and former Air Force intelligence officer. His international thriller Doha 12 steers clear of Southeast Asia, thus (unfortunately) not requiring research into the girlie bars of Pattaya. He tweets (@lcharnes) about scuba diving, shipwrecks, art crime and archaeology, among other things.

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