by Gray Basnight
Kindle Edition, 404 pg.
Down & Out Books, 2018
Read: January 10 – 11, 2019
Kill a man’s dog, break a man’s rules.
No, this isn’t a John Wick tribute/knock-off. Not at all. Just another tale about a guy with his priorities right.
A grief-stricken, new widower finally snapped after the death of his dog (no doubt his emotional instability aided by the pain killers he took following the car accident that killed his wife), makes a ranting, angry, delusional phone call to the police, saying something about guns and shooting before killing a neighborhood resident and then running from the police. Authorities consider him potentially armed and dangerous.
Or at least that’s what the authorities want you to think.
In reality, Samuel Teagarden is a math professor who was attacked for reasons that he doesn’t understand by drones at his home. Teagarden makes a panicked call to the police for help but escapes, although his aged dog dies — as does someone from the neighborhood. He has no idea what’s going on (as the book opens), but he knows that someone is trying to kill him. As you can imagine, this is a pretty good motivation to move as quickly as you can — which isn’t easy, because the car accident that took his wife from him left him with two broken knees.
That’s right, he’s 49, he’s a math teacher and he’s running around on two mostly-healed broken knees — you can practically see Tom Cruise or a Hemsworth lining up to get cast as him in the movie, right?
But why would someone want to kill him? Well, back before he got his doctorate, he was an entry-level code analyst for the CIA and he’s dabbled in the field since — and someone had sent him encoded correspondence from the earth twentieth century. Neither Teagarden or the sender realized how sensitive it was and that there were very powerful people in a “three-letter” agency who didn’t want anyone decoding the correspondence, much less knowing it existed.
So, Teagarden has to evade whoever is trying to kill him and the police who think he killed someone — while trying to decrypt this stack of code and figure out who is out for him. He has his wits, a little bit of cash and a little luck on his side, the other side has resources, drones, surveillance equipment, trained assassins and a federal budget backing them.
Sounds like the ingredients of a heckuva thriller right? It is. It’s also one of those that I could utterly ruin for prospective readers by saying just a little more — so I’m going to resist the temptation to give anything but that bird’s eye view.
I can’t tell you how or exactly when the book got its hook set in me – which is a good sign, I prefer not to know how I’m being manipulated. But I can say I was a little skeptical initially, but I remember something forced me to stop reading, and I was annoyed by it, and when I checked, it the progress meter was at 14%. That’s not long at all for me to get as hooked as I was.
Now, all of us have read/watched a thriller where 3 out of the 4 people the protagonist has met in the last month have some necessary knowledge and/or connection that the protagonist needs to survive and/or meet their goal. Flight of the Fox is the same way — Teagarden meets just the right people, catches all the right breaks, and so on — but unlike typical protagonists, he notices this. He doesn’t take it for granted, he sees it happening and it affects him. This is a little touch, but its these little things that shows Basnight’s skill and uniqueness in the field.
Teagarden is a great character — he’s fallible, he’s human, but he’s also creative, smart and resourceful. He has to be to survive this situation. The assassin after him from the beginning is cold, efficient and deadly — you never have any doubt about that. His colleagues and employer are also the kind of people you don’t want to get on the wrong side of. There are a couple of fantastic characters in these pages and the rest are pretty good, too.
The story is the obligatory roller coaster — it’s fun, fast with a lot of twists and turns. You also spend a little time sure that you’re in a free fall only to realize that everything’s been under firm control the entire time. It’s realistic enough to make you a little worried about drones flying overhead and to wonder just how reality-based the correspondence is — but it never sacrifices the sense of a fun (and fictional . . . I hope) story for the reader. I heartily recommend it.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.