4 stars out of 5
I was made aware of this book, the first in a series featuring former Marine Corps special ops guy turned freelancer and extreme cage fighter John Harding, through an Amazon.com offer to download it for 99 cents. I'm not even sure why I took a closer look, except it was the first in a series, so if I liked it, I'd be able to look forward to more; and, I liked that it had earned an average of 4-1/2 stars from 76 reviewers. The clincher, though, was learning that Harding spent his teenage years in Leavittsburg, Ohio.
Say what? Leavittsburg is a very small community of a couple of thousand residents along the Mahoning River in Trumbull County not many miles from my home - and it's so small that it's unlikely anyone would mention it in a book unless he or she were familiar with it. So I did a little sleuthing of my own; I didn't unearth much except that the author at one time attended the now-closed Western Reserve High School in nearby Warren, Ohio, and thus Leavittsburg would have been almost in his back yard. But that was enough for me to say what the heck? It was less than a buck, and I was intrigued.
And now that I've finished it, I'm hooked.
Harding, it seems, ran away from his Leavittsburg home and an extremely abusive father at age 14; with a little age adjustment, he got into military service, where he performed spectacularly and learned several languages. Subsequently, he's recruited by a CIA agent to take on special projects that must remain under the government radar - most of which involve utilizing his special skills and killing bad guys. To supplement that income and satisfy his need for violence, he earns money as an extreme cage fighter and takes on odd jobs doing bodyguard and skip trace work for his manager.
Along the way, Harding manages to knock the stuffing out of an extreme fighter backed by the Russian mob, thus putting himself in their crosshairs. At the same time, he's recruited to protect a young Afghani woman he knew as a child when he was doing military service there - now grown, she's come to America to speak out against the atrocities happening back at home. Helping Harding with the latter task is lawyer and love interest Tess Connagher (it's her law firm that was directed to hire Harding to protect the Afghani woman).
Since there are two more books in the series that I know of - Hard Case - The Lure of Hell and Hard Case - Voyage of the Damned - it's clear from the beginning of this one that Harding will survive. And given his background and occupation, it's also clear there'll be no shortage of knock-down, drag-out fights in this book. In fact, those events are pretty much ongoing - moving from action in the field to action in a cage. People get killed right and left (but, as Harding points out, he doesn't kill people who don't deserve it). There's a little romance, a little humor here and there, and the result is that it's really a good book that held my attention all the way to the end. I will caution, though, that it you don't like reading about blood and guts, this probably isn't your style. As for me, bring on the next one!
Hard Case by Bernard Lee DeLeo (RJ Parker Publishing, November 2013), 288 pp.