A Crossbow novel by Wilbur Smith and Tom Cain
Book review by Jules Brenner
William Morrow, released 3/22/16, 416 pp., $28.99
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This third thriller in Wilbur Smith's Crossbow series had me wanting to put it down after reading the sex scene in the first few pages. Sorry, but the impression it gave me was of a guy (the writer) who had something to prove. Not the best way to introduce protagonist Hector Cross, a tough, though, grieving warrior.

He has much to grieve about and it's not just because his wife was murdered but in the bitter how. She was killed by Johnny Congo, the psychopathic menace who Cross had captured alive instead of taking him off the planet. Which is when Cross's wife Hazel Bammpcl talked Cross into allowing this vile killer to live in order to meet a proper justice. Big mistake.

No one else in the world could have convinced Cross to take his arch enemy alive but his Hazel. And, for that, the depraved monster was given the chance to shoot and kill her.

That occurred in Smith's last book. At the start of this one, Congo is laying on his death row cot reveling in his deed and what he knows it's doing to Cross mentally.

The thing about Johnny Congo is size and strength, which are outdone only by the size and strength of his sick, evil mind. Oh, and yes, a completely crooked attorney in the suit and style of D'Shonn Brown, the progeny of gangbanger Aleutian Brown, a small army of thugish followers, and a boatload of hidden assets are all part of his entourage. For some reason, Congo, with two weeks to go, is thinking more about his Geneva account than the upcoming date of his execution.

With the help of his lady-friend(s) (wait'll you meet Zhenia!), Cross's emotional pain subsides enough to get back to work as CEO of Crossbow Security whose major client is the billion dollar firm of Bannock Oil headquartered in Houston, TX. Crossbow holds Braddock installations in the Middle East, their oil rigs and their 300,000 ton exploration ship, the Bannock A, safe against terrorist attack or competitive sabotage. It's work that our ex-SAS warrior is uniquely trained for. But he has yet to learn about the most dangerous enemy any law-loving man's ever faced. That brute goes by "His Excellency King John Kikuu Tembo."

This is macho, manly writing. Life and death action, closely detailed firefights, move-for-move close combat, schemes, deception and betrayal. A tall order that shows a formulaic mode calling for the noble, emotional hero pitted against a treacherous villain out for personal fortune and power at any cost to anyone.

Fortunately for those who gravitate toward Smith and the extremes of international crime and villainy, he writes with compelling skill for fans of bold action thrillers. While his reality is bent by scale and timing, Smith is adept at creating a large cast of functional characters while maintaining clarity -- at least for the most part.

If I were to play the game of guessing what collaborating writer Tom Cain was brought in to contribute, it would be the sex scenes. They seem like steamy insertions rather than organic parts of Smith's solid narrative flow. Needless to say, I could be wrong.

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