Almost every thriller promises action and intrigue. Many novels go astray trying to push their heroes’ exploits to that level, but once in a while a book comes along that really delivers on that promise. Assassin’s Code by Jonathan Maberry is one of those books.
The action kicks off as Echo Team, led by Joe Ledger, rescues a group of American college students being held in Iran. Instead of arresting Joe, the Iranian government asks Ledger’s team to accept a far more dangerous mission: find six stolen nuclear weapons hidden in Mideast oil fields.
Joe Ledger is the kind of hero who’s easy to like and cheer for. He has a snarky sense of humor and loves baseball, pop culture, and a good American beer. But as Maberry says, he’s also damaged goods.
“Because of some terrible trauma he experienced as a teenager, he’s developed a fractured personality,” Mayberry says. “One aspect is the Modern Man –that part of him who still manages to cling to his shrinking idealism and optimism. The second aspect –which is probably the closest thing to a central personality—is the Cop; and Joe is an experienced investigator, having logged years with Baltimore P.D. The third aspect is the Warrior, the part of him that is always covered in black and green greasepaint and squats in the tall grass waiting to take it to the bad guys in ugly ways.”
The warrior is needed in this book, because the search for the stolen nukes leads Ledger and his team into hidden vaults of forbidden knowledge, mass-murder and betrayal. Echo team must deal with The Red Knights, a brotherhood of genetically-engineered killers. The Knights are assassins working for The Red Order, a secret society that dates back to the Crusades. Ledger must also face Hugo Vox, a master manipulator and the most dangerous terrorist on earth. Luckily his team is up to the task. Echo Team is a tight squad of Class-A shooters working for the Department of Military Sciences – a secret rapid-response group created to stop science-based terrorist attacks.
You would expect a book set in Iran involving both modern day nuclear horror and ancient secret societies to require a lot of research. Luckily, Maberry is a self-described research junkie.
“For Assassin’s Code, I began by researching the Crusades,” Maberry says. “Even though the book is set in modern day, it’s built on eight hundred years of political and religious intrigue. I did a lot of research—hitting the books and talking to experts—on the Crusades, life in ancient times, the Inquisition, the politics of the Catholic Church and Islam, the Mideast oil wars, the economics of oil production, weapons of mass destruction, covert surveillance equipment, computer hacking, decryption and code-breaking, the Hashashin, and vampires. It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun and it gives the book a strong foundation of reality.”
That foundation of reality keeps Maberry’s books from becoming cartoons. Although Maberry is a successful comic book writer, Joe Ledger is never portrayed as a comic book hero.
“There’s nothing he does that’s outside the range of the top DELTA or SEAL operators,” Ledger says. “The science is tomorrow’s science, but this is stuff that will happen. A lot of it is already happening.”
And that drive to realism pushes Maberry to focus on realistic character development.
“For me the story always starts, stays and ends with the characters,” Maberry says. “Even with high concept, these books are about how catastrophic events impact the lives of real people. I explore a lot of psychological issues, as well as ethical and political issues.”
By keeping it real, Maberry makes us believe in hired killers with a thirst for blood, and makes us care about Joe Ledger’s search for a mysterious Book of Shadows. The book contains a horrifying truth that threatens to shatter Ledger’s entire worldview. It’s hot and fast action from end to end, a novel the author calls a high-speed collision of 24 and The X-Files.
So if you’ve burned through the collected works of Vince Flynn, and you enjoy James Rollins’ Sigma Force, you’ll want to add Mayberry’s Echo Team to your reading list. Assassin’s Code is a great place to start.
Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award winner, and Marvel Comics writer. He’s the author of many novels including ASSASSIN’S CODE, DEAD OF NIGHT, PATIENT ZERO and ROT & RUIN. Nonfiction books range from martial arts to zombie pop-culture. Since 1978 he has sold more than 1200 magazine feature articles, 3000 columns, two plays, greeting cards, song lyrics, poetry, and textbooks. He founded the Writers Coffeehouse and co-founded The Liars Club; and is a frequent speaker at schools and libraries, as well as a keynote speaker and guest of honor at major writers and genre conferences.
To learn more about Jonathan, please visit his website.