Book Review: Hellfire, by John Gilstrap
This is one page-turner of a thriller. There’s so much testosterone in it that holding the book while I read it caused hair to grow on the palms of my hands. I would have finished the novel a lot earlier, but I had to stop reading every three pages so I could leap out of my chair, pump my fists in the air, and chant “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A!”
This is the twelfth book in the Jonathan Grave series, but there is no need to worry about reading the first eleven novels in the series. There are no spoilers for previous books, and all of the necessary information needed to introduce the reader to the characters is provided in a few quick sentences here and there.
Jonathan Grave is a Bruce Wayne-like character, a man of immense wealth (though his inheritance has shady origins) who uses his money to make the world a better place. With the assistance of the Catholic Church, he funds an organization to help children with parents charged with crimes, but he’s not content to simply write checks. He’s the head of a small team of highly trained professionals with specialized skills who handle challenging situations, often outside the letter of the law, but always on the side of the angels, even if their haloes are a little crooked.
In this book, a professional couple is involved in some extremely shady criminal activity, though it’s not clear at first whether they’re actually evil themselves or if they’ve been roped into committing illegal acts against their will. The husband is shot trying to run away, and the wife is sent to prison, leaving their two innocent young sons to be sent into the system. When the boys are kidnapped, and their mother is ordered by sinister forces not to accept the tempting plea deal offered to her, Grave and his team must rescue the boys and find out who’s behind a villainous organization, and determine just what sort of terrible acts the bad guys seek to inflict upon America.
I have made my disgust at flat, undeveloped child characters well-known in recent reviews. Too often, children in novels are flat, dull, and utterly passive. Gilstrap has created genuine characters in the kidnapped boys, who are limited by their youth and size, and hampered by childlike fears, yet despite their weaknesses, they cleverly manage to attempt to rescue themselves, and the elder brother has some touching scenes as he comforts and encourages his terrified sibling.
The book is pure action and suspense, and it’s elevated above the standard fare thanks to characters who are likeable while being slightly larger than life, ranging from a behemoth mercenary, to a career prosecutor with no soul, to nasty ne’er-do-wells who make one loathe them instantly. Here and there, Gilstrap inserts a hilarious line of dialogue, and all in all, Hellfire is pure escapist entertainment that manages to be adrenaline-soaked fun.
By John Gilstrap