Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Adam Hamdy would have learned from his work with studios and production companies that, to capture the attention of readers, you must hit them hard in the opening scene or episode. It’s that piece of wisdom attributed to US President Theodore Roosevelt: ‘If you’ve got ‘em by the balls, their hearts and minds will surely follow’. Hamdy excels at scrotal compression when Elmore Lang rescues Ziad Malek from an Egyptian prison. The scene is provocative, tense, crude, obviously dangerous (we recognize the stereotypes and have a rough idea how the scene will play out), and fresh (as our preconceptions are dismantled). We learn that Hamdy is a complex thinker.
The hero, Scott Pearce, does not appear until page 15 at which time we discover him, perched on a hard office chair, his home for the past eight days. Pearce soon leads us into the uncomfortable life of an investigator tracking smugglers. While he can attack his opposition with gun and knife and show no sign of compassion, he diverts from his planning when women are in trouble (21) or a female colleague is in distress (404) and shows numerous instances of care for his injured team member Leila.
Red Wolves tells a story fraught with complications. It is unusual to find a character that is not conflicted but that does not matter. What is important is the story, which must be measured, perhaps by weight, given that there are so many characters who add their excessive avoirdupois to the tale. Each character offers something to the story, and while the contributions of some might easily have fitted into the action and dialogue of others, thus reducing the population of participants, Hamby seems happy with the current groups. After all, the author has no time to spend on developing characters. Readers will have no trouble sorting them out and, readers who cannot work out who belongs to which criminal gang, who is a Red Wolf and who is an unassociated scumbag, is not the sort of intelligent reader to attract to this writer’s oeuvre.
The book is as so many critics have described – relentless, intelligent, disturbing, stunning, scorching, timely, tense, and terrifying. But it is not addictive. The scenes were commonplace. I found I had no interest in any character, no matter how prominent, and in fact had forgotten most before I’d finished reading. This lack of interest troubled me, until I reached the following, where Pearce is musing:
How did people rationalize this kind of horror? How did they cope with lives that took them so far from mainstream society? … Taken in isolation, few events in his life made sense, but people’s lives weren’t snapshots; they were stories, coherent only as a chain of causation (366).
It appeared that there might be some depth to Pearce, something memorable – but his thoughts turn to justifying murder and I lost interest.
Stylistically, the book displays a tight control over adverb usage. Hamdy has experience and this shows in the level of his writing. He shows in several places that he is concerned with more than simply churning out a story. He gives the reader something to think about. For example, Pearce considers the amount of freight that passes through the massive seaport of Seattle with not the slightest hitch in the computer software. “People were the problem,” (95), Pearce decides – but is more interested in continuing the tale as it involved a gang of killers.
This is a tale that promises action on an international scale. This it provides at the penalty of implausibility. The story often takes the easy path. If the science is inadequate, invent a solution; if a disease is needed to wipe out a population, create one; if a reason is needed for widespread murder and mayhem, don’t look for one in this book. The protagonists are too busy being busy – that no one takes the time to ask why.
An interesting book that critics will argue over on many cold, wintry nights.
By Adam Hamdy
$32.99; 496 pp