Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Kill Switch

James Rollins' Tucker and Kane books may be the only dog-related fiction that I will willingly and happily read.  After too many harrowing childhood experiences with tragic animal fiction (Black Beauty, Shiloh, Old Yeller), I stay far, far away from books about or involving dogs.  When everyone raved about The Art of Racing in the Rain, I said "Nope."  People mooned over Marley and I buried my nose even further in either a nonfiction account of infectious diseases or a high fantasy or a fun adventure novel.  That's how I found this duo: in a Sigma Force novel by James Rollins, one of my absolute favorite thriller/adventure writers.


Tucker Wayne and Belgian Malinois Kane are ex-Army Rangers who, on occasion, help out the Sigma team.

In The Kill Switch, their first standalone novel (Rollins also did a short story prequel called Tracker which I highly recommend), Tucker and Kane are doing routine protection for a Russian magnate in Novgorod.  Okay, so that's not exactly everyone's just-another-day-at-the-office, but when you're a former soldier with PTSD and you've kind of appropriated your partner (technically, Kane belonged to the U.S. government until the end of the Sigma book, where they transferred ownership to Tucker in recognition of his assistance) from the Army and you don't particularly like killing people, protection is a pretty decent gig.

Note: I have zero (0) experience in anything military or protective services.  This is all pure conjecture on my part.

Anyway, after a tense and twisty chase scene that sets up the book, Tucker gets a call from Sigma.  They need him to do a routine escort mission and get a scientist out of Russia.

By now, we all know that "routine" never works that way.

Tucker ends up with not only the scientist (who is irascible and not exactly super-grateful for his rescue), but also the scientist's daughter and his lab assistant.  They're being hunted by the GRU, Spetsnaz, and a Swedish sniper-turned-assassin named Felice Nilssen.  Plus, there's a mole in their midst, reporting on their progress to an Evil Russian General (yes!).

It's a fun ride from the frigid tundra of Russia to the burning desert of Namibia, and the bond between Tucker and Kane is really the highlight here.  I felt the plot could have been a bit more intricate, although Tucker's not a spy--he's a soldier.  So, maybe that's why he didn't see all the double crosses coming?  But I didn't mind that too much, because I was so fascinated by the Kane's ability to understand over 1,000 words and string together complex commands.  Yes, dogs really do this and they do it in combat situations.  Everything that's written from Kane's perspective is believable and interesting.

The one thing that really irked me was at the end when Tucker meets his handler in person.  He's always imagined her as a "librarian."  But whoa!  She is sexy!  She does have glasses, but they make her sexy.  This makes her "definitely not a librarian."  I wish the mousy librarian trope would die a thousand fiery deaths, along with the sexy librarian stereotype.

This book was co-authored by Grant Blackwood.  He seems to mostly co-author things, which I suppose is a pretty good gig.  However, I felt like Rollins' usual exuberant voice was tempered somewhat by this collaboration.  I haven't read his collaborations with Rebecca Cantrell, so I couldn't tell you if that issue was specific to this book or just a by-product of working with another author.

Happily, this is the first in Tucker and Kane's very own series, and I hope to see them working with Sigma again soon!  Lots of fun.  Woof.

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