Greg Rucka does not adhere to a strict one-book-per-year schedule, but be assured that when he does make an appearance in the New Books section, he is bringing a blockbuster with him. ALPHA is his first book since THE LAST RUN (from the Queen & Country series) and the beginning of a new canon, this one featuring Master Sergeant Jonathan “Jad” Bell. A novel that begs to be read in one sitting, ALPHA will have you setting the clock back an hour or so at regular intervals to justify staying up through the night to finish it.
"A novel that begs to be read in one sitting, ALPHA will have you setting the clock back an hour or so at regular intervals to justify staying up through the night to finish it."
Bell is an undercover Delta Force operative who engages in covert missions both abroad and at home. The majority of ALPHA takes place over the course of an extremely long and dangerous day at an imaginary amusement park in southern California known as Wilsonville. Bell has been tasked with heading up security there; his handlers have intelligence to the effect that “something” is going to happen there, but they don’t know what or when.
The “what” turns out to be the detonation of a dirty bomb; the “when” is a busy Saturday when tens of thousands of people will be in attendance at the park, including Bell’s ex-wife and their hearing-impaired daughter. Bell’s problem is that the people he is matched against are military–trained, just like him, and have infiltrated the park as employees, who populate the park as costumed figures. To make matters worse, his family members are included within a group of attendees who are taken hostage.
Bellis not the only one facing difficulties on this particular warm southern California afternoon. The people pulling the strings on the operation, as well as those having their strings pulled, cannot entirely trust each other, and there are weak links up and down the chain of command. The result is a body count that begins rising before the first shot is even taken, and some jockeying for position on both sides as protagonists and antagonists argue over which respective course of action is the best to take, while civilians are caught in the crossfire.
Rucka has obviously researched the material of this story thoroughly, and that knowledge --- combined with an amazing storytelling ability --- makes ALPHA one of this summer’s must-read thrillers. His attention to detail is first rate, and his Wilsonville is a fully realized amusement park world. The look behind the scenes of the park is worth the price of admission all by itself. The book ends with Bell significantly bloodied but unbowed, ready to step into a new mission. Rucka has created yet another in an impressive line of riveting and sympathetic action heroes. Hopefully we will see the follow-up to ALPHA sooner rather than later.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 25, 2012