Ben Sanders may be from New Zealand, but he gets the United States in a way that few authors do, even those of us born and raised here. He demonstrated this conclusively in 2015’s AMERICAN BLOOD, his US debut and introduction of Marshall Grade to the literary world. That very worthy book was set in the American southwest; its successor, the newly published MARSHALL’S LAW, takes place primarily in New York. New Mexico and New York may as well be entirely different countries for their lack of commonality, but Sanders makes the geographical transition without missing a beat.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. For the uninitiated, Marshall Grade is a former law enforcement officer who slipped the reins of witness protection and spends most of his time attempting to stay alive. This is not easy to do, given that he has a habit of making enemies among the criminal element. However, even he is somewhat surprised when he learns what happened to Federal Agent Lucas Cohen, who had been his handler in the program. While transporting a prisoner, Cohen was ambushed and kidnapped by a team that had just one question: Where is Marshall Grade? Cohen, who barely escaped with his life, had no idea, but when he eventually does make contact with Marshall, it puts him on alert. Marshall has a long list of enemies, and one in particular has put a “wanted: dead or alive” bounty on his head.
"The plot is strong and complex, the characters are memorable, and the prose is a dirty jewel. You will find something to underline, highlight or otherwise note on virtually every page."
This, in turn, has attracted the attention of a corrupt and troubled businessman named Dexter Vine. Thanks to a series of illegal business ventures that have gone bottoms up, Vine finds himself in the unenviable position of owing a criminal Chinese organization five million dollars. The deadline for payment of the loan is fast approaching, and a desperate Vine thinks that if he can deliver Marshall for the bounty, he can use that money to get out from under. Dexter and his crew are anything but rocket scientists and are just incompetent enough to be extremely dangerous.
Marshall, who is not averse to confrontation, travels to New York to meet the challenge head on. He finds, though, that not everyone he meets is entirely trustworthy, but given his background and experience, this is not exactly a surprising revelation. Marshall, backstabbing notwithstanding, will go through a series of brutal and deadly encounters before he ultimately confronts his past in the form of a long-simmering menace who will stop at nothing to see that he is moved off the radar for good.
AMERICAN BLOOD was terrific, but MARSHALL’S LAW is even better. Sanders delves into Elmore Leonard and Wallace Stroby territory, and establishes his rightful place next to them. The plot is strong and complex, the characters are memorable, and the prose is a dirty jewel. You will find something to underline, highlight or otherwise note on virtually every page. To name but one: Late in the book, there is a throwaway line about Saul Bellow that is so perfect, so real, that it is worth the price of admission all by itself. Slot MARSHALL’S LAW to the top of your must-read list.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 28, 2017