I like the character of Joe Hunter in Matt Hilton’s debut novel, Dead Men’s Dust, but so far he’s kind of thin. I don’t mean physically. I mean emotionally. He’s good in a fight, has plenty of surprises up his sleeve, and can be mean as a junkyard dog if provoked. He even has ultra-violent friends in low places that don’t mind bringing killer ordnance.
My kind of guy.
But Dead Men’s Dust is an off-stride read at best. It takes a while to get into even though there’s action at the start and a real sicko of a serial killer in Tubal Cain. At first I felt like I was reading two separate stories that had been unfortunately jammed together. Then, once the connection was made, things seemed to smooth out.
Since this is Hilton’s first novel, he’s earned some grace from me, especially since he talks so knowledgably about the military and special forces. And because he doesn’t mind writing about a character that’s an armbreaker when he has to be.
I even liked the twisted sociopath trying to up Ted Bundy’s kill record. I didn’t understand why Tubal Cain was trying to do that, but I understood that it was important to him. But man, even though I knew the two men had to be connected, and the tie was impressively done, it took maybe a little too long to get there.
The writing is good, nothing sharp or fancy. But it’s the pacing of the stories that really pulls the reader along. Unfortunately the presence of two stories ultimately bogs that down, until the reader knows what the stakes truly are. By the time you get to the point where the two tales converge, you’re ready to rock and roll.
There’s a lot of potential in the character. Joe Hunter, like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, can’t walk away from the siren call to adventure and putting things to rights. Given the fact that Hunter obviously knows a lot of people all over the world and that several of them will probably get themselves into sticky situations, he’s probably going to stay busy throughout the course of the series. However, I’d like to see more of the story be about Hunter rather than the villain. The mix in this book is almost 50/50, and I felt I was being dragged away from Hunter’s story far too often for reasons that weren’t good enough. Tubal Cain’s story was good, but it was just in the way while I was trying to get to know this new character.
Hilton is supposed to have a second Joe Hunter novel in the works. When it comes out, I’m going to pick it up and have a look because I do want to see where Hunter goes in his literary career.
Readers looking for a new hero like Jack Reacher or one of the other vigilantes prowling the bookshelves these days will find one in Joe Hunter, but the author is still getting his groove on. It’s worth reading, and you can never have enough good guys.