Review: Killed in Action by Michael Sloan

Creator of The Equalizer TV series, Michael Sloan reinvents the story of the mysterious Robert McCall—a former intelligence officer who helps desperate people in need of his unique skill set—in Killed in Action.

I’m totally dating myself here, but I was not old enough for my parents to allow me to watch The Equalizer when it originally aired on TV. I always enjoyed the idea of it though: a person who was willing to help equalize the odds against you when you were the target of bad people. I never got around to watching the movie either, but when I heard that The Equalizer’s creator, Michael Sloan, was writing a series of books based on the character, I leaped at the chance to finally immerse myself in that universe.

And what a multi-layered universe it is! Equal parts international black-ops thriller and gritty urban vigilante procedural, the thrills and spills are leavened with true heart—even as Mr. Sloan weaves a fascinating tapestry of many different cases vying for our hero Robert McCall’s time and attention. Most of these have to do with—perhaps surprisingly—mothers: there’s a mother looking for her wayward 20-something daughter in the big city; a mother seeking recourse for her much younger daughter, a victim of their building’s rat infestation; and a mother who doesn’t believe the US Army when they tell her that her son has been killed in action in the Middle East. There’s also the case of a vanished former boss from McCall’s time at The Company, a shadowy branch of the CIA. To complicate things closer to home, there’s a vigilante who thinks McCall isn’t doing enough and who has begun to imitate him in hopes of usurping his role and identity.

McCall balances all this with an aplomb honed through years of working complicated operations for The Company. As he works on each case that comes his way, he uses every advantage at his disposal, which often includes his talent for violence, as here when he comes upon a mugging:

The two men who’d been trying to break Isaac’s ribs turned as McCall ran forward. They were big. The one closest to McCall noted his age and broke into a smile that revealed several teeth missing. He grabbed for McCall’s coat. McCall knocked out several more of his teeth with one punch and kicked his legs out from under him. The second mugger picked up a length of pipe lying beside a row of old-fashioned metal trash cans. McCall disarmed him in two moves and slammed the pipe into his right knee, hard enough to bring him down, but not to shatter the kneecap. The mugger who’d been going through Isaac’s coat lunged for McCall. McCall picked up one of the trash-can lids, smashed it into the mugger’s face, then executed a knife-hand strike to his throat. He started gasping for breath. McCall threw him bodily into the trash cans.

But violence is not necessarily his go-to solution. I was particularly impressed with how he worked to resolve the case of the deadbeat landlord and how that, in turn, worked into the overarching plot of the novel. McCall uses violence only to save lives in atonement for his past sins while working for The Company. Where he can, he prefers a softer touch since his mission is to help people, not hurt them. Even after parachuting behind enemy lines in jihadist-controlled Syria, he has time to consider the moral quandaries he can all too often find himself bogged down in:

McCall looked around what had been a living room. He saw a small bright figure shaped by the moon before it fled again.

He knelt and picked it up.

The Barbie doll had flaxen hair, some it pulled out by the roots. One of Barbie’s arms was missing. The doll was dressed in a canary-yellow Fashion Pack Firefighting Uniform with black boots and a round pink hat. Some child had hugged that doll and dragged it around the village, and maybe it had been her constant companion until she had been killed. McCall had come here for one American soldier. But the personal tragedies that surrounded him were ghosts he recognized. He wondered bitterly if the Equalizer had any chance of lifting even one human being out of despair.

But it was all he could cling to in the new life he had chosen.

Killed in Action is deftly plotted and action-packed, making it an entertaining new addition to The Equalizer universe. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend reading it without gaining some background into the setting first, however, as there is a large cast of supporting characters who already have an established history with McCall. Fortunately, you can come to this familiarity through either the television show or the first novel in this series, also titled The Equalizer (the movie is set in Boston and doesn’t feature many of McCall’s contacts, alas, so it would be of limited use for this). This second novel provides a more than satisfying continuation of this rich tradition, and my hat is off to Mr. Sloan for writing such an abundance of intrigue so well.

Read an excerpt from Killed in Action!

 

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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.

Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.

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