Fresh Meat: Sympathy for the Devil by Terrence McCauley

Sympathy For The Devil by Terrence McCauley is a modern espionage thriller featuring a long-hidden, international intelligence network turning against itself and to terrorism (available July 14, 2015).

Fans of Jack Bauer rejoice, your new hero just rode into town. Sympathy for the Devil by Terrence McCauley has enough gadgets to satisfy tech junkies and enough character to bring humanity to a story that is all too terrifying in its plausibility.

James Hicks works for The University, a black ops government anti-terrorism agency. He runs the New York office, a city already scarred by extremism, and Hicks suffers no fools. He’s not even that likable of a guy, a feeling shared by his supervisor.

Jason took another sip of his latte and licked his lips clean.

“You’re right. We don’t have to like each other. We don’t even have to respect each other, but we do have to work together. Under other circumstances, I’d probably ask the Dean for another posting because I don’t enjoy working with people I despise and, believe it or not, I despise you.”

Hicks toasted with his coffee. “Feeling’s mutual, Ace.”

But Hicks has a job to do, and that is to find out what is going down at a cab stand run by a Somali ex-pat named Omar. And what’s going down there is much bigger than anyone initially thought.

The action starts by showing us how Hicks turns “assets” for his job – ordinary people who he can manipulate to his will by using their past and current indiscretions against them for leverage.

Turning as asset was like adopting a stray dog or a blind cat. They were being brought into an established environment and made to go against their own nature for your own benefit. The pet owner expected companionship and affection. The pet was expected to respond in kind or catch a rolled up newspaper in the nose.

Hicks’ gruff nature is a by-product of his job. He’s alone in the world, a cipher by design. Even his bosses don’t know where his office is. And when he is ambushed by a former asset and the truth at Omar’s begins to come to light, Hicks becomes a battering ram of justice. He won’t let a terrorist attack happen on his watch.

Good thing he has the full use of The University staff and their super computer, OMNI, with global reach and seemingly unlimited financial resources.

Fans of spy gadget wizardry will have as much to like about OMNI as conspiracy theorists who think a system like it is monitoring our every move right now.

Hicks brought up his handheld and thumbed the camera feature of his handheld alive. He aimed the camera at the car as it pulled away and waited for the handheld to locate the car’s black box. Every car made since the mid-nineties had one. It was like waiting for a device to find a wireless network, only this search was much faster. The phone found the black box transmitter and pinged it back to him. He tapped the University’s tracking feature on his phone and sent the protocol to the University’s OMNI system. Now the system would track the car wherever it went.

McCauley makes the wise choice to populate the book with rich, diverse characters to balance the technology. A disgraced financial tycoon, an Israeli sniper, an S&M club owner with a torture fetish, a heroin-addicted teen, a beautiful female agent all swirl around Hicks and give him and the story dimension. Even on these side missions nothing feels like a tangent and the imminent threat is never off the page for long.

And Omar makes for an all-too realistic villain.

Men like Omar scared the hell out of Hicks because they had nothing to keep them going except the hatred that fueled everything they did. That hatred gave them strength and motivation and purpose. God help whoever found themselves on the other side of Omar, because the only way to stop them is with a bullet to the brain.

Like Jack Bauer on 24, the men on Hicks’ team are not above a little torture to get information that will save thousands of lives. And they don’t need to steal people away to Guantanamo or some foreign soil. All the action takes place right in New York City, including this charming setting:

The chair had been re-covered in soft rubber to make for easier cleanup after a session. A drain had been installed in the center of the floor and florescent lights powerful enough for surgery hung down from the ceiling. The small dentist’s tray had long since been removed in favor of a proper surgery table that held scalpels and sutures. Much heavier equipment, too, like steel bone saws and spreaders that sparkled in the strong light.

The action comes fast and furious as the ticking clock winds down. This is capital-T thriller territory. And through it all we root for Hicks, even if he remains a bit of a mystery. It’s testament to the fact that a character is defined by their actions, rather than their history. Hicks is an idealized super spy, but he shows his human side. When a colleague dies, he grieves. His loyalty is unshakable to those who’ve earned it.

Sympathy For The Devil is a thriller for the 21st century, rooted in harsh reality, packed with action and great characters. And Hicks is a hero for our times. He’s a little bit Dirty Harry, a little bit James Bond – though minus the martinis.


“Your reputation in the University is very impressive, though a bit…”

“A bit what?”

“Troubling, I guess. Your file is full of professional accomplishments, all of them impressive, but nothing personal. Nothing about your real name or where you’re from of what you did before the University. The only hobby they have listed for you is that you like blondes and drink scotch.”

Hicks smiled. “There are worse pursuits. Some might call them virtues.”

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Eric Beetner is a hardboiled crime author of The Devil Doesn't Want Me, Dig Two Graves, White Hot Pistol, The Year I Died Seven Times, Stripper Pole At The End Of The World, Split Decision, A Mouth Full Of Blood and co-author (with JB Kohl) of One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. Award-winning short story writer, former musician, sometimes filmmaker, film noir nerd and father of two.

Read all of Eric Beetner's posts for Criminal Element.