5 stars out of 5
For years, I've insisted that nobody can touch Stephen King for getting my full attention within the first few pages (if you don't believe me, read the first chapter of Mr. Mercedes. Well now, Mr. King has some serious serious competition: In this one, author Matthew Quirk writes an absolute killer of an intro. No doubt, I said to myself as I kept reading several more chapters, I'm gonna love this one.
When I agreed to read it (thanks to the offer from the publisher, via NetGalley, for the advance copy in exchange for a review), I admit to having second thoughts. Quite honestly, I've grown a bit weary of stories about Special Ops guys gone rogue, now wanted by government leaders who once fell all over themselves praising their accomplishments - leaders who most likely are themselves corrupt. I still feel that way, and this book saddles up that template from start to finish. But in this case, boy, what a ride it is in between!
John Hayes, a Special Operations superstar, apparently betrayed his soldiers while on a deep-cover mission overseas. Now, he's back in the United States and on the run, trying to avoid being captured or killed by the very folks who sent him on that mission. One of his colleagues in other missions, Thomas Byrne, exchanged his weapons for life as a surgeon; but he can't escape his past and the guilt he continues to feel. The two old friends meet up now under very different circumstances - if Byrne finds Hayes, he's to capture him. But as readers might expect, nothing is ever black and white. The two old friends - made enemies by the government they both trusted - do find each other; but the story Hayes tells is quite different from the one Byrne has come to believe.
So who's telling the truth? That, too, isn't exactly black and white. The action turns explosive - literally - as the two try to work out their differences and ferret out what really happened and who the "baddies" really are. I'll admit the super-human action got a little wild and crazy from about the mid-point on (shades of Ian Fleming's Thunderball and Clive Cussler's NUMA Files series), but the writing remained top-notch throughout, with at least one twist I didn't see coming. So even though I was thinking "Movie!" for the second half of the book, I couldn't wait to get to the last page.
Will there be a follow-up? To be sure, that seems like a good bet. If that happens, it's a sure bet I'll be in line waiting to read it!
Cold Barrel Zero by Matthew Quirk (Hachette Book Group, March 2016); 384 pp.