If you are not yet addicted to Mark Sullivan’s Robin Monarch series, you will be after reading OUTLAW. Following last year’s ROGUE, OUTLAW reads like a mash-up of Terry and the Pirates (extra points if you know what I’m talking about) and Mission: Impossible (points deducted if you don’t), with enough explosions, twists and turns to fill three books with bodies left over. What’s not to love?
One need not have read ROGUE (or the three Monarch eNovellas that have preceded OUTLAW) to enjoy this latest installment from the jump. It begins with a clandestine, off-site meeting of the U.S. Secretary of State and her counterparts from India and China that goes seriously wrong when a group of Islamic pirates with delusions of grandeur --- they call themselves the “Sons of Prophecy” --- kidnap the trio and hold them for ransom. If the respective governments of the kidnappees don’t pony up within a week, the Sons are going to start lopping off their heads live on the Internet. This occurs the week before the U.S. presidential elections and obviously is going to have some effect one way or the other on things if the situation is not resolved, and quickly. The President puts the call out for Monarch, who agrees --- for a hefty sum --- to bring the Secretary back alive.
"Following last year’s ROGUE, OUTLAW reads like a mash-up of Terry and the Pirates (extra points if you know what I’m talking about) and Mission: Impossible (points deducted if you don’t), with enough explosions, twists and turns to fill three books with bodies left over. What’s not to love?"
Naturally, however, there is a lot more going on here than a bunch of lowlifes with AK-47s behaving badly. The man behind the curtain is a crime lord whose name translates to the Moon Dragon and whose purpose in having the three power players kidnapped go far beyond anything as mundane as influencing a presidential election. India and China are not going to stand idly by, either; as a result, Monarch finds himself in the uncharacteristic position of working with someone who is not on his hand-picked team. It is Monarch’s Chinese counterpart, an extremely capable agent named Song Le, who is the most interesting --- not only for the occasional friction between them, but also for her somewhat enigmatic background, which is slowly and tantalizingly revealed over the course of the story.
That is not to say that OUTLAW is stuffed with quiet drama and little else. No, this is an explosive and exploding triptych through Southeast Asia as Monarch and Song Le utilize a lethal combination of technology, investigation and grit to locate the hostages and track the Moon Dragon to his lair. As becomes quickly evident, Monarch will do anything to obtain intelligence; one scene will remind readers of bugs and windshields, with Monarch in the role of the bug, which raises issues concerning his sanity. While it is reasonably safe to assume that Sullivan did not attempt the maneuver before presenting it on the printed page, the same can’t necessarily be said for Monarch’s tour of Bangkok, where he visits several interesting areas of the city as he attempts to enlist the assistance of an old and colorful friend who always has an agenda of his own.
Racing against time, Monarch and Song Le --- with some last-minute assistance from some of Monarch’s former colleagues --- launch a desperate attempt to save the hostages. However, this still may not be enough, despite their best efforts.
OUTLAW is complete in itself, but Monarch may have made a powerful enemy he does not even know about yet. Sullivan wisely leaves an issue or two unresolved at the end to give readers something to look forward to in the next installment, by which time their adrenaline levels, which spiked while reading this one, will be back to normal. Hopefully.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 25, 2013