Alex Shaw’s first Jack Tate thriller stunned me with its awesomeness and gave me an experience better than 99% of modern action movies. Total Fallout is a gritty, tough, nerve-wracking, smart but outrageously fun, pulpy but detailed, and a classically awesome action-packed thrill ride. Though the plot is very unrealistic, the book is grounded with the villains, heroes, and all the memorable supporting characters, where some of them need a spin-off series.
Jack Tate, a former SAS commando turned covert operator for the British SIS(MI6) with their paramilitary branch – The Increment – is an awesome, unrealistically badass, and likable protagonist who has a lot of potential for a long series. He begins by heading to Camden in Maine for a vacation to destress from work but is arrested by the local cops for murder. Tate co-operates with the sheriff and helps out with finding the real killer who’s assassinating three people in three days. Plus, Tate’s staying at the same hotel as the assassin’s cohorts, a group of former Russian Spetsnaz commandos who are there to observe an event. As a former undercover operator in Ukraine and Russia, Tate understands their conversations and investigates without wanting to get involved. This sequence of events in the first third feels a lot like a Jack Reacher book, but Tate’s sense of humor, his battle-hardened grimness, and his smart toughness are way more fun.
At the same time, a skilled sniper is carrying covert kills in Camden, and also at Washington DC, which brings a DC cop, John Chang, to the British embassy to investigate the murder of a diplomat. Tate’s brother, the regional SIS head of the station, is soon nabbed by the villains a while after the attack mentioned in the book’s title occurs. An EMP weapon that destroys all the electronics in the US. Though this can seem unrealistic, it sets the tone for the chaos throughout the story orchestrated by a crazy villain who has a personal vendetta against Tate’s brother, a villain Tate thought he’d killed on a false flag operation a few years ago. This mad Russian is comical at times but gruesome in ways villains ought to be and it’s fun to read Tate rampage through the villain’s operation like an unstoppable wrecking ball. And Tate does shine in numerous action sequences like a glorious killing machine, upping the ante with each awesome action set-piece which was like watching a movie that’s better than anything done by studios these days.
The mad villain’s alliance with a Chinese tech billionaire and Chinese MSS deep cover agents, a former Spetsnaz kill crew called the Werewolves, and a plan to destabilize the Western powers in an audaciously grand scheme makes James Bond movies look more realistic, and yet Total Blackout is a non-stop fun ride with hard-hitting action, mystery, twists, and a good load of grimdark elements done in an entertaining manner. In a way, this book sets the standard for my gruesome comfort food of outrageously fun literature that could never bore me. Many characters get killed, others turn out to be more than who they are, and a few change in unexpected ways, but none of the characters are unharmed as all of them are thrown into a kill or be killed fight for survival from the villain’s doings. John Chang, the DC cop steals the show, despite not being a primary protagonist, in his own way and evolves as a character into a smart, flawed, but heroic figure worthy of his own series.
From hijacking the villains’ plane after crashing into their airport in a bullet-ridden car chase to jumping out of the same plane seconds before it’s hit with a missile, eliminated a whole kill squad in a farmhouse to hijacking a chopper, and a climactic face-off with the main villain which ends in a creatively fun kill, Jack Tate is one of the most enjoyable action heroes to be created in the past two years. Plus, the author Alex Shaw’s dark humor is sprinkled throughout the book making it a diabolically twisted read. This is the way thrillers are supposed to be, devoid of any useless drama and negotiations, where there’s no place for sensitive, harmless protagonists. This take no prisoners, adrenaline-pumping, heart-thumping ride would put off the more sensitive mainstream readers, but I ate up the second half within one day. Many scenes in the book are heavy on the SAS fanfare, glorifying them like superheroes, but the fun factor is well executed. I’ll be reading the second book in the series, Total Fallout, eventually, and hope this series continues for many installments.