Alex Shaw’s second Jack Tate action thriller, Total Fallout, is more complex than the first and is an emotionally charged, wild thrill ride. Tate, a former British SAS commando, turned MI6-SIS covert operator in the Increment, is an interesting character but in Total Fallout, the focus is on Ruslan Akulov, an antihero and a frenemy to Tate. The technical side of the plot involves a variation of the deepfake technology, but the many players involved and the numerous parallel plots present make it a wild read. The action’s realistic and yet awesome, but the characters are what make this a good action thriller.
From Mexican drug cartels to rogue Chinese spies, Spetsnaz commandos to freelance assassins, gangsters and British spies all come together in a brilliantly orchestrated clusterfuck that’s got many good twists and turns. Though it is officially a Jack Tate book, Akulov is like the real protagonist who drives the plot. When framed for the murder of Tate’s parents in a terror attack, Akulov goes on the run to dig into what happened while surviving the British intelligence.
His journey to find the person from his former Russian unit, the Werewolves, who was actually responsible for the attack, makes him an ally to a drug cartel. He’s sent to eliminate a member of a rival cartel for whom his former teammate is working, but bigger things are at play. Akulov eventually connects with Tate and his intelligence officer brother, who plans to kill him, but Akulov convinces them to help him. Wary of his innocence in their parents’ murder, Tate and his brother follow on, but are walking into a trap set for all three of them. The action escalates till they are on the hunt for a cyber-weapon, a hacker who wants to defect away from the Russians, and an elaborate plan to take revenge on Tate for the events of the first book.
Though the action sequences are brutal, pulpy, and wild, it’s still somewhat realistic, and all the characters are humanized with their own emotional character arcs, even the minor characters. Tate is a classically awesome action hero, but Akulov shines as a tormented, conflicted, and damaged anti-hero who does not want to be a hero but still has a code of honor which makes him want to do the right thing at every situation. In some ways, Akulov is the same as Tate but of Russian origin, but in many others, he’s like a darker, rogue version of Tate without any home.
With brutal close-quarters fights, shootouts, car chases, explosions, RPGs, knife work, and spycraft, there’s enough action to please hardcore readers of the genre. It’s refreshing to read British and Russian protagonists who are not caged by the politically polarized and divisive nature of American action heroes. Even the bits of dark humor are amazing and bold in Alex Shaw’s books. The action keeps escalating till the end and some things get very wild, but the characters give an emotionally strong experience through the narrative. Many things in the plot hit personally for most of the characters and Shaw’s balance of both character and plot is brilliant.
There are Russian bad guys but Akulov, a Russian character, is a likable good guy with a code of honor, which is a fresh change from the rest of the genre. Akulov brings out the Russian perspective on international conflicts, in a humanizing way, without painting all of them in a negative light. Not all of the characters are safe and Total Fallout takes many unexpected turns. It will please both spy fiction readers and action thriller readers while also having technothriller elements. This might be the first book I’ve read which portrays a drug cartel as the good guys as a cartel helps Akulov and Tate against their rival cartel and the Russians in the events of the story. I consumed the audiobook, which was fun, but I also plan on buying the paperbacks of the Jack Tate series someday for my collection. Hardcore fans of high testosterone, awesome, and badass action thrillers should be reading Alex Shaw’s Jack Tate series.