Before I tell you how much I enjoyed JUDGMENT AND WRATH, I am going to attempt to correct a minor misconception about Joe Hunter, Matt Hilton’s primary protagonist. Contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, Hunter is not a clone of the worthy Jack Reacher, Lee Child’s creation. While Hunter is possessed with a skill set similar to Reacher’s, the two men are very different in a number of ways. Reacher operates off the books and is a nomad, moving from place to place without attachments. Hunter works with a team and has a change of clothes at the ready; while he doesn’t exactly advertise his services as a problem fixer, he’s not really a shadow figure, either. I mention this only because much has been discussed of the characters’ similarities; they are different, each very capable of standing on their terms.
Which brings us to that portion of the program where we discuss Hunter and JUDGMENT AND WRATH, Hilton’s second Hunter novel, on their own merits. Hunter is an interesting character, blessed with a glib tongue and an intelligence of high enough range to make him one of the more dangerous creatures in the brush. He also knows when to ask for help, which is there in the form of his pal and business partner Jared “Rink” Rington, who has been to a rodeo or two in his time as well.
JUDGMENT AND WRATH gets rolling when Hunter is retained for a retrieval job by a man named Richard Dean. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. While it’s true that Dean seeks Hunter’s help in finding his adult daughter, Marianne, and returning her to him, he also hints that he wants Bradley Jorgenson, Marianne’s millionaire boyfriend, singing in the choir invisible as well. Hunter is not a hit man, but when he hears from Dean about Jorgenson’s abusive ways and sees Marianne’s “after” pictures, he is inclined to make an exception. Hunter learns soon enough, however, that he is not the only one who has Jorgenson in his sights.
A mysterious, somewhat insane and extremely capable assassin who calls himself Dantalion has also been retained to do both Jorgenson and Marianne. Dantalion has taken the name of one of the fallen angels, and the appropriation, as one discovers early on in JUDGMENT AND WRATH, is fitting. Dantalion and Hunter cross swords and paths violently and repeatedly as they pursue each other across South Florida, leaving a swath through the rich and famous and those who wish they were. To complicate matters, Hunter discovers that the woman he is rescuing has no desire at all to be saved, and he has not been told the entire truth about a number of things. None of this matters to Dantalion, who is dead set on murdering his original targets: Hunter and whoever gets in his way.
Hilton must soak his keyboard in equal parts adrenalin and electricity. JUDGMENT AND WRATH is loaded with car chases, gun battles, fisticuffs and mayhem, but also humor. I managed to pick up within the pages of the book a couple of the nastiest and funniest insults I have encountered to date and even had the opportunity to use one of them. Reading JUDGMENT AND WRATH is the most fun you can have between the covers of a book.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011