Sunday, February 21, 2016

Book Review: "Cold Barrel Zero" by Matthew Quirk

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks to NetGalley and Mulholland Books for making it available!

Matthew Quirk's third book, Cold Barrel Zero, almost literally begins with a bang.

John Hayes was once an elite soldier in Special Operations. He and his fellow soldiers were trained to infiltrate targets by completely immersing themselves in their midst, essentially becoming one of them. They performed many deep cover missions, eliminating enemies of the U.S. by whatever means necessary, and their very existence was disavowed by the country they were fighting to defend. When one mission goes wrong, Hayes and his cohorts are labeled as traitors and are disgraced, forced to go into hiding and leave their loved ones behind. But Hayes knows at some point those who betrayed them will come after them again, and he must be ready to fight with everything he has.

Tom Byrne once knew Hayes, once fought by his side as a combat medic, and even helped patch him up after a firefight. Yet the two followed different paths—after a particularly difficult time on the front lines, Byrne makes the decision to leave the military and become a surgeon. But the memories of his time as a soldier haunt him, making it difficult for him to stay in one place too long or commit to a relationship.

Much to his surprise, Byrne finds himself enmeshed in Hayes' plans for revenge despite not having seen him for years. He isn't sure whom he should trust—a soldier he fought with years ago who seems utterly capable of the crimes of which he is being accused, or the U.S. government, who is allegedly protecting Byrne but yet isn't sure whether he is to be trusted either. Whatever choice he makes is a dangerous one, with significant repercussions for everyone involved, including the woman he's starting to fall in love with. This is a battle with the highest of stakes, for both life and liberty.

I first came upon Quirk a few years ago when I read his debut novel, The 500, which really impressed me. I missed his second book (but will have to pick it up, as it was a sequel of sorts to the first) but in the ensuing years, Quirk has definitely matured as a storyteller. He has a real knack for action sequences—I felt my pulse racing during some of the fight scenes. He also has a created some very interesting characters, although he doesn't develop all of them fully, leaving some of them to be a little more rote than I wished they were.

There is definitely a lot going on in this book—too much at times, in my opinion. Between the use of a lot of jargon and acronyms I'm not familiar with, and the large cast of cohorts on both sides of the battle, I found myself having to re-read passages to be sure I knew which side I was reading about, and who did what to whom. This is definitely a book that keeps you guessing, and while that makes for a suspenseful read, there was a lot of double- and triple-crossing to keep track of.

If you like action and espionage, I think you'll find Cold Barrel Zero a really compelling read. Quirk's talent makes you want to keep reading, and while it is a little confusing from time to time, your heart will be pounding as you race through the book.

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