Blood Run by Jamie Freveletti is the fifth book in the Emma Caldridge series, where the biochemist and her team must stop the spread of a smallpox virus and avoid the ruthless government attempting to stop her.
If Jamie Freveletti had arrived on the literary scene ahead of Raymond Chandler, the famous quote instead may have read, “When in doubt, come through the door with a grenade launcher.” In her latest novel, Blood Run, her biochemist protagonist, Emma Caldridge, is three hundred miles east of Dakar, Senegal, when the armored vehicle she and three others are riding in is ambushed.
The heavy car shuddered when a second grenade exploded near the roof, and another rain of bullets hit the driver's side window. It failed in a shower of tiny glass slivers and shrapnel. Emma watched in horror as a splash of red washed over the clear divider between the driver and the passenger area.
“The driver's been hit,” Emma said to the two others.
She pressed the button to lower the glass divider, like those found in limousines, to access the front seat. She was glad that it still moved. That meant that the car hadn't yet lost power. She knew that a car taking fire, even an armored car, had seconds to escape the first hit. A vehicle that didn't move while under attack would eventually be breached, no matter how extensive the armoring.
She manages to take over for the driver and then outmaneuver her attackers—for the time being. And soon, her adrenaline is replaced by anger as she discovers she has been lied to by a billionaire named Jackson Rand about her job. She had signed up for a humanitarian mission to provide vaccines that would inoculate children against polio, but after some prodding, she learns from Rand that vials of smallpox—which his company was hired to secure—are missing. Aside from Emma being a leading biochemist, he knew of her previous adventures and felt she would come in handy in a dangerous pinch.
He also postulates that competitors want him dead for any number of reasons: “… the billionaire set,” Rand explains, “is the nastiest, filthiest, most corrupt group of people you'll ever meet.” Truly pragmatic, she channels her frustration with Rand into survival mode and moving forward. As an ultra runner who regularly competes in marathons, she could leave Rand and his secretary in the dust, but she tolerates the tortoises as they drag their luggage along.
I like Emma Caldridge. She's package-fresh—immediate charismatic appeal—and that's very important for any series today if the author wants to step out from the lengthening shadows of Vince Flynn and Lee Child heading the forefront. (Mr. Child praised this series as “Just terrific—full of thrills and tradecraft, pace and peril…. Outstanding.”) This character's take-charge attitude is fortified with experience and wit that one could assume is extrapolated from Ms. Freveletti herself, a trial attorney with an International Studies background.
Freveletti's bio also states she's a runner with a black belt in Aikido. This knowledge enhances Emma's action scenes beyond stale, routine fisticuffs and worn-over shootouts. And having spent some time in African countries, I also appreciate her description of the terrain, weather, and local customs like the time-honored tradition of haggling. The author doesn't get bogged down in such details—this is, after all, a plot operating on Jason Bourne speed—but it is necessary ambiance to set Emma's adventures alongside other top-tier thrillers.
A soldier ran up to her and, from the singed sleeve, she could see that he was the one who'd tumbled out of the exploded vehicle. He was thick and squat, with a shaved head and narrow, mean eyes. Those eyes locked on her face and his expression twisted into one of rage. He held a knife in one hand and reached out with the other to grab her arm. His fingers bit into the flesh of her bicep, and she yanked it away and out of his grip. His ragged fingernails scraped, leaving a trail of blood on her skin. He slashed at her with the knife, aiming for her face, as if he sought to mutilate her, as well as kill her. She dodged the first wild slash, spun, balled her fist, and punched him in the face.
Maybe it sounds plebian to call writing smooth, but that’s exactly what Blood Run is to me—a smooth, intelligent, fast-paced thriller that continually ramps up, achieving maximum heart rate. High respects to Ms. Freveletti for doing genre fiction right.
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David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.