Book Review: "Alpha" by Greg Rucka

For months I've been diligently and steadily working my way through all the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Frankly there hasn't been much of anything that's kept me from breaking stride with this. The volumes sit in my car and are read whenever I get a chance.  In fact I'm nearing the end of it.  The home stretch.  I'm looking forward to completing my journey through the Holmes mythos.

And then Greg Rucka just had to put a book out, and when that happens, I'm dropping whatever I'm reading and picking it up.

I've read all his Atticus Kodiak novels.  I've read all of his QUEEN AND COUNTRY work.  In fact I was eager for more Q&C, but here we have something different.  ALPHA gives us a whole new protagonist, Jonathan "Jad" Bell, and all the excitement we could want from a Rucka novel.  This book shines.  The characters are pitch perfect.  The action isn't forced.  The suspense is high.  As with every Rucka novel once it gets going its nearly impossible to put down.

The premise is straight forward, there's a suspected terror attack eminent on a major theme park, and Bell needs to stop it.  What sounds simple is given a ton of beautifully crafted twists that make this book amazingly compelling.  First off is the park.  Before you even start reading, there's a map of the park, Wilsonville.  We quickly get a feel for this park and the characters that inhabit it.  We find out all about Gordo, Betsy, and pooch; the Flower Sisters; and Clip Flashman.  All of this is laid out to the point that it seems tangible.  Wilsonville comes alive just as much as Disneyworld or Universal Studios.

As always with Rucka's work the character's are fully realized.  Jad Bell is very likable in that this man is a professional who holds his job and what is right in the highest regards.  He's lived a very rough life, which we get a brutal taste of in a flashback scene.  We get everything we need to know about this man very quickly.  He's not the only character we get to know well as we also follow his opposite number, Gabriel, in this.  Gabriel is a sleeper agent who is going to be running the attack on Wilsonville.  Here's a really nasty twist to this: you almost start to like the guy.  It would be so very easy to write this guy as a total scumbag.  Still, Rucka inserts a very sympathetic side to him.  No doubt that what he's doing is completely wrong and horrible, but there still that little bit of him that's completely in love with his girlfriend that makes you like the guy just a bit.

I do love the little moments some characters get.  We see these park employees under the worst possible circumstances and we see them doing their jobs and doing right by the park guests.  We see people in the control room that know that something really horrible is possibly happening and just by staying where they are it could mean their lives, and they keep doing their jobs.  On the other side we get glimpses of the men pulling the strings behind this operation and, oh, how we loath them.

The one thing that stuck with me just a bit was the timing of certain events and how coincidence was such a factor.  Jad's ex-wife and daughter are scheduled to visit the park when the threat is imminent.  Jad's daughter is deaf and Gabriel's girlfriend is an ASL (American Sign language) interpreter.  It seemed a bit too coincidental, but it certainly served to up the drama level and gave both players in this game a high emotional stake.  Its pretty easily forgiven too since Jad's daughter and Gabriel's girlfriend are both delightfully written.

This book moves.  Rucka gives us plenty of information to go on and conveys it interestingly.  He doesn't beat us over the head with facts we don't need, and when he gives us something extra its always entertaining.  The flow is fast paced and easy reading.  There are time in here where chapters overlap events, in that the same thing is covered in three different chapters from three different perspectives.  While I could see this going horribly wrong and getting tiresome, that's never the case here.  Every different perspective is fresh and gives us a vital new take on things to totally flesh out the events.

I loved every bit of this book, and its looking like the start of a strong new series from Rucka.  I left this book wishing I had the next one right in front of me.  He's devious like that.  Typically, when you get to the end of a Rucka chapter there's a little bit there compelling you to say to yourself "OK, I know its two in the morning and I have to be up at six, but just one more chapter..."  This whole book not only left me satisfied, but sunk a hook in me craving more.

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