Review: Judgement and Wrath

Judgement and Wrath
Judgement and Wrath by Matt Hilton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

He seems unlucky, that Joe Hilton. Two books in and two psychopathic serial murderers on his ass. Funny how the super-mad killers seem to be making a bee-line for Joe Hunter. How unlucky is that?! Ah, yes, but this one is actually a contract killer, or Contract Killer, I never know if these things should have caps or not. I suppose you ain’t gonna set it on your CV, or look it up as a job description in the newspaper, so maybe not, but anyway…

Joe Hunter is now seemingly established in the good ol’ US of A, down Florida way and seems to have joined his ex-Special Forces friend ‘Rink’ in running a Detective agency. Which, as the author himself hoped I would find by reading on (I don’t mess about, me!) kind of explains where he’s getting his money from these days. Though handing your fee back to the person buying your services ain’t gonna be good for business in the long run. We’ll see.

Cut the crap: I thoroughly enjoyed this one once I left my ego at the door and got on with enjoying it. There are surprises and there is invention and it goes, mostly, where you want it to and there’s enough here to have me on the old interwebings ordering the next one in the series before I’ve finished. Always a good sign. For the author. Maybe not for my bank balance or my long-term health if the wife finds out…Oh well, you only live once.

What I thought sometimes underway, was maybe Matt writes seeing the film of the story in his head while writing? The two books so far have all the elements that would make good films. Lose Joe’s northern accent maybe. But then, there’s a thing. I’m hoping that further stories might play up his English-ness a little more. It is mentioned once (I think it was just the once) and that was by Hunter himself. I’d have thought it was a reasonably exploit-worth angle, his British sound and attitude, northern attitude at that.

This time, Hunter takes on a job to find and rescue a young girl from a bully. Not at school or anything, but in one of Miami’s richest quarters and from one of Miami’s richest/most powerful families. Only, things aren’t all what they seem of course and Hunter isn’t the only one wanting to have words with the afore-mentioned family. There’s also someone called ‘Dantalion’, who was bullied at school and has been taking revenge – and lots of money – for it ever since. Now, ‘Dantalion’ wasn’t the name on his birth certificate, but is a persona he’s given himself – based on (apparently) a fallen Angel of the same name. The modern Dantalion wants to emulate the biblical one and that necessitates the killing of many people. Many, many people.

Of course, Joe Hunter isn’t a revenge killer. Oh no. Or an assassin of those who need assassinating. “I never saw myself as an assassin; still don’t. I saw the death we doled out as a necessary evil.” But, the thorny question of who decides if someone has reached the necessary level of evil, Joe or The Law, has got to rear its ugly head. Many times (too many times, if you ask me – I’m sure it can be done in more subtle ways) in the book, Hunter reminds us that he is only doing good, only dealing out hurt to those who really deserve having it dealt to. We are asked by him to join him, we are shown by the actions of the others, that he must be right, that we must agree with him. But…and there has to be a but, who IS he to decide? Of course, the books wouldn’t be near so exciting if he just Batman-style left the bad guys handcuffed to a lamp-post, but sometimes…It is an interesting dilemma this – the outside the law vigilante vs the ‘problem solver.’ And so far, while walking a very careful (sometimes feeling a little too overtly careful) Matt Hilton has dealt with the dilemma very well. He realises it might be seen as a problem for his readers, often having Hunter express aims or desires in such a way that you both aren’t confused by where he sees himself and you are more than likely to go along with him/the character. There’s no doubting, you do sometimes wish Hilton would unleash Hunter from his self imposed restraints, but he has to keep the character on the right side of this being ‘revenge porn’ and making sure we are crystal clear over who is the real bad guy here. However… there are, uncomfortable, similarities between Hunter and his nemesis Dantalion. I’m not sure if they’re intentional, but I noticed a couple anyway. For instance, Dantalion doesn’t shoot Jorgenson while he’s running away, because Dantalion wants to look him in the eyes when he kills him. Clearly the mark of a mad, psychotic killer who must be stopped at all costs, inside or outside the law. Then, Hunter says, a couple of pages later; “…things had got very personal between us and I’d only be happy if I was looking into the bastard’s face when I killed him. Using my SIG meant I’d be able to see the whites of his eyes.” Clearly the mark of a totally alright, stand-up kind of, doing the right thing, a hero…

The early style of switching back and forth one chapter on Hunter, one on the villain, can be a little tiresome, unneccesary even. There are only two strands to the story at that point, maybe there needs to be more, a third location. It is more mechanical than intuitive. Needs some work, that area. When the two meet and the action becomes ‘one’, then the flow is much better and the book zings along.

What I really liked was, whilst reading, I’d get to a point where the non-reading part of my brain (it is a thing, that) would be shouting “well, why didn’t he do THAT?! Why doesn’t he (for example) just stamp on the brakes and come up behind him?! Why do they always try to out run a more powerful car in a straight line?! Then, a paragraph or so later, he does all I’ve been thinking. I’m then nodding (still mentally, you understand) and thinking “He’ll do, this Joe Hunter. Good lad.” So, not predictable, but going where you’d want it, where he should and making me out to be the fool. I like that. Though I still think answering and having a reasonably sensible conversation on your mobile phone while your tear-arsing after the deadliest killer ever, stretches it a little.

I like that Hunter is beginning to be more aware of what he is in danger of being seen as, and therefore Hilton of what he has created. To be honest, it would still work and the stories still be very popular if he just went after and killed the bad guys straight off. But for us bleeding-heart liberals, we need some kind of sign of awareness of the moral dimension and dilemma involved. Perhaps fortuitously for those untroubled by such fumblings, Hunter still gets the job done with great style and gusto. And that can also be said of the book(s) so far (I’m a bit behind I’ve only read the first two as yet). They are thrillers, they thrill. They are action books, there’s plenty of action. But there’s also something else. I can’t quite put my finger on it yet, but I’m going to enjoy reading more to find out. Maybe that’s it – they’re enjoyable. Maybe I should stop trying to over analyse, relax and enjoy the ride. Yes, I’ll do that.

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