End Game: A Jonathan Grave Thriller
If you are ever fortunate enough to attend a mystery or thriller convention, and John Gilstrap is visible, hang around in his periphery. He is Ground Zero, if you will, for the gathering of the Cool Kids, even if he does not appear to be so initially. I assure you that you will learn more by being in Gilstrap’s orbit for 15 minutes or so than you will in any classroom.
As it happens, you can learn quite a bit in his novels as well, including the knowledge that, no matter how quickly you can read, it just isn’t fast enough. I had my own reminder of that when I started END GAME, Gilstrap’s new Jonathan Grave thriller and --- even considering his enviable bibliography --- his best novel to date.
"Gilstrap puts you in the moment as very few authors can. It takes just a few paragraphs for the real world to fade and for one’s entire focus to be attached, leech-like, to the printed page. And there are many vignettes that will stay with you long after you have finished the book."
END GAME starts off explosively and keeps on rolling. Set right in the middle of the American heartland --- Indiana, Ohio, and uh, some place called “Michigan” --- it begins with a home invasion by a squad of assassins who make quick work of a Chechen scientist who has been working as a double agent for the United States government. Their real target, however, is Graham, the scientist’s 14-year-old son. Graham, an otherwise odd duck in the throes of adolescence, has a photographic memory, and stored within is an alphanumeric sequence that has not one but two teams of baddies after him.
Fortunately, Graham has an au pair cum bodyguard named Jolaine, an extremely capable security specialist with a military background. Graham and Jolaine quickly find themselves on the run, unable to trust anyone. Grave is tasked with retrieving the pair and bringing them to safety. There is a major problem, however, one that Grave shares with his quarry: he can’t really trust anyone outside of his team, including the too-good-to-be-true FBI agent who brought the assignment to him to begin with. Grave, though, is used to being attacked from all sides, and his mission is clear: retrieve the boy and his bodyguard.
Pairing up with the all-but-invincible Boxers, and loading up with some very superior firepower and other toys that you wish you had but never will, Grave follows a rapidly disappearing trail. Meanwhile, Graham and Jolaine have fallen into the hands of some very bad people in a seemingly impregnable place. Grave and Boxers, though, have never been intimidated by a supposedly impossible task. With a couple of extremely unlikely allies, the dangerous pair launch what appears to be a suicide mission you will never forget...and doesn’t end in quite the manner you would expect.
Gilstrap puts you in the moment as very few authors can. It takes just a few paragraphs for the real world to fade and for one’s entire focus to be attached, leech-like, to the printed page. And there are many vignettes that will stay with you long after you have finished the book. For example, I guarantee that you will never again walk from your hotel room to your automobile without an extra spring in your step as you cross the parking lot, with a heightened awareness of your surroundings thrown in for good measure. If you want to know why, read END GAME.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 1, 2014