I’ve been working my way through Mark Dawson’s John Milton series of thrillers. As you may recall, I was a little disappointed with the first one, and liked the second better.
I began the third, The Driver, and have now officially dumped the series.
In The Driver, John Milton is now living in San Francisco, drawn into a search for a young prostitute who has disappeared.
I quit reading where I got to the part (I should have seen it coming, but I was optimistic) where he gets into American politics, which for him are pretty simple. On the Left, the good guys, on the Right, the bigots.
Author Dawson appears to have learned his American politics from CNN, where he apparently also learned about guns. Defectively in both cases.
I do not need John Milton in my reading life. He is barely distinguishable from a half dozen other thriller heroes available. And most of the other heroes’ creators have the sense not to insult half their prospective readership.
Yesterday I left you in breathless suspense, waiting to learn whether the second John Milton book by Mark Dawson was more satisfying that the first one.
I’m pleased to say that I liked this one, Saint Death, better, though I still have quibbles.
As you may recall, John Milton is one of those thriller heroes (the field’s getting a little crowded) who used to be an elite operative for a super-secret government agency. But his conscience overcame him, and he dropped out of sight. His old bosses do not accept this – the only way out of Group Fifteen is feet first. John, for his part, is on a personal quest to atone for his sins.
As Saint Death begins, John has successfully fled England, and is now in Juarez, Mexico, working as a cook. One day, some cartel gangsters walk into the restaurant and open fire at a group of three young people. John intervenes, saving the life of one young woman, and also of a couple cops who happen to be present.
With the (somewhat skeptical) help of one of the policemen he saved, John takes on the job of protecting the woman survivor, a journalist who has been operating a blog devoted to exposing the cartels. She is being hunted by a legendary assassin known as Santa Muerta – Saint Death. He’s the best, and his drug dealing bosses are sparing no expense to eliminate this woman. John has his work cut out for him.
But that’s not all. John’s old bosses have picked up his trail again, and they’re on their way to Mexico to bring him in.
The thing I liked about Saint Death, in contrast to the last book, The Cleaner, is that John is allowed a little more success. Most of the good and innocent people around him aren’t injured or killed this time. And courage and generosity are rewarded a little more. The writing, as before, is professional and good.
My main complaint is that the author bought the Accepted Wisdom that it’s possible to walk into an American gun show and just buy a firearm without a background check. People who believe that should try it sometime.
If you believe violence never solves anything, writing a thriller is probably not the best use of your time. You need to write a quiet, tragic story about the necessity of always submitting to bullies.
I’m not sure that’s author Mark Dawson’s actual problem. But it’s my only real objection to his The Cleaner, the first novel in his John Milton series.
John Milton is, like so many thriller heroes these days, a professional assassin, part of a super-secret British Government operation, this one called Group Fifteen. John is their Number One, their top operative. But he’s burned out. In his last assignment, he allowed mercy to outweigh professionalism, and so was suspended.
Instead of facing discipline, he simply disappears, something he’s very good at. One day in London, he saves a young woman, Sharon, from suicide on the Underground. She confides her story at last. She’s a single mother. She’s already lost her oldest son to drug addiction; now her younger boy, Elijah, is flirting with involvement in a street gang. She doesn’t know how she can face it all.
John is immediately fascinated. This, he thinks, is a situation he can do something about. He has (and he actually uses these words) “a particular set of skills.” If he can help to save this boy, he imagines, get the villains off his back, it might help to ease his own karmic debt, get him some peace from his nightmares.
But even for John, who has faced some of the most remorseless terrorists in the world, it will be a challenge to face off against the inhuman brutality of London gang leaders and drug dealers.
If that wasn’t challenge enough, Group Fifteen is close on his heels now. Once they pinpoint his location, they will apply their own ruthless coercive tactics to the task of silencing John Milton forever.
The Cleaner is a very competent entry in the expanding field of thrillers about benevolent ex-operatives. The writing is good, the characters engaging. My problem with it was that the story’s resolution involves so much collateral damage that it left this reader wondering whether the whole effort was worth the price.
Well, I’ll see how the next book works. I actually bought The Cleaner some time back, and didn’t finish it. But then I bought the next book in the series (on a bargain deal) and figured I’d better read The Cleaner first. I’ll read Saint Death now and let you know how it goes with that one.