But I've started paying attention to little things that mark how skilled an actor can be, like Alan Cumming, a "Scottish character actor" whose native accent never shows in the abrasive character he plays on television's The Good Wife. It's as if he stepped through a looking glass into a different life entirely.
I get the same feeling when I read a thriller by Mason Cross. Another Scot, born in Glasgow and living and writing in England, his thrillers are flawlessly American -- not even an occasional European spelling or expression to distract from the relentless pace and compelling characters.
With THE SAMARITAN, Cross earns high praise in a blurb from one of America's top writing -- and well followed -- thriller authors, Lee Child, whose terse comment is, "My kind of book."
"Carter Blake" (a false name, but one he's comfortable with) reappears here, speaking a similar language to Child's skilled and heroic Jack Reacher. Blake isn't former military in the way Reacher is; instead, he's cut loose from a skilled "black ops" locate-and-assasinate team recruited by the US government, and he's making an independent living locating the lost for those who need to find them, in a "white hat" sort of way. In fact, as THE SAMARITAN opens, he's putting a runaway daughter back in touch with her dad, and solving their complications casually in the process. A chance glance at a TV news item sends him jetting out of Florida toward Los Angeles, where he's dead certain he knows the perpetrator of a newly discovered series of grisly murders.
But the spotlight dances quickly away from Blake, and it isn't until nearly halfway through this fast-paced crime novel that Blake speaks the name of the strong and fierce FBI Special Agent he worked with in The Killing Season ... and even then, it's only to establish his bona fides for the Los Angeles cops.
Instead, Cross gives us primary interest in a woman homicide detective, Jessica Allen, as determined and with as much integrity as Elaine Banner showed when she teamed up with Blake in the earlier title. Allen's new in LA, and wears a taint of possible betrayal of the force in her last police position, so that she's an outsider on the LA team. An unexpected collaboration from another local detective and the information that Blake can provide will tip the scales at last toward giving her a chance to prove her worth against the serial killer. But Blake can't reveal too much. Take this moment, for instance, when he's trying to get the ex-cop dad of one of the murder victims to open up:
I took my time responding, because I couldn't share everything here. I couldn't talk about the fact that I knew the killer's name.Cross uses some writing devices to keep the strong characters' voices separate: Carter Blake's experience comes in first person, as just demonstrated, but both detectives Jessica Allen and her partner are in third person, as are the scattered glimpses into the killer's viewpoint. It works, but it does mean you've got to stay alert while chasing the clues here.
"I think this guy has killed before -- before any of these three, I mean -- so we might be able to do something by backtracking, tagging open and unsolved case to him. I think he's done it in the past and he'll do it in the future, so that means he needs to be stopped by any means possible."
Boden's eyes flicked up to me at that last remark, but he didn't comment. The personal fighting back against the professional, maybe.
Cross's narrative is top notch -- well, not yet as powerful as Lee Child's, but never distracting, and his pacing is well chosen, keeping the pages flipping. His female characters, like Jessica Allen, are a bit less engaged in reacting to Blake than Child's women are with Jack Reacher; the difference may cost him some of the devotion that Reacher's drawn, but with the plus of a more "real" feel to the choices made. THE SAMARITAN includes some great twists, too.
Today's the release date, and I think I'll buy another couple of copies to share. It's always exciting to catch a new author in the early work, and feel the buildup toward the top of the field. Mason Cross seems likely to succeed in that climb. Many thanks to Pegasus Crime for making sure the series is available on this side of the Atlantic.
And yes, I think if you have time, the resonance from reading the debut The Killing Season first will be worthwhile, but it's not necessary; THE SAMARITAN stands fiercely and triumphantly on its own.