Title: Blood and Ashes
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Hardback: 325 pages
Publication Date: 03/02/2011
Matt Hilton has become known for his super-charged thrillers, and his latest [and fifth] Joe Hunter novel, Blood and Ashes, is no exception. A nigh-on-constant hail of bullets, car chases and bone-crunching violence, the action starts on the first page and never really lets up [there are a few brief sections of plot exposition, but they are very brief]. It’s exhilarating, completely breathless and wildly enjoyable entertainment that flies off the page.
The world that Hunter inhabits, much like that found in Lee Child’s Reacher novels, has a fairly rigid and polarized structure – there is good and there is evil, but little that blurs the boundaries between the two [with the exception of Hunter]. In Blood and Ashes, this evil manifests itself in the forms of the group of white supremacists attempting to hold the US government to ransom with the threat of a dirty bomb. It isn’t exactly an original plotline for a thriller, but what sets this novel apart from the competition is Hilton’s ability to maintain the remorseless pace and action [and without it ever growing stale or boring – which is no mean feat, let me tell you!] and Joe Hunter himself.
The obvious point of comparison for Hunter is Lee Child’s wildly popular anti-hero, Jack Reacher. And, undoubtedly, there are a number of similarities between the two characters. Both were in the military, are capable of extraordinary violence and are, in effect, roving vigilantes [although one character in Blood and Ashes gives it a slightly more poetic air when he jokingly calls Joe a ‘knight errant’].
But, for me, there is a major difference between the two of them – their characters. Reacher is the embodiment of an atavistic, almost primal, form of justice and remains, to a certain extent, a rather cipherous figure – the reader never really gets much insight into his interiority. By contrast, due to Hilton’s use of first-person narrative, the reader gets a far greater understanding of Hunter and what drives him. And there is also a humourous quality about him and the way in which Hilton portrays him that is completely missing from Child’s representation of Jack Reacher.
And this wit can also be seen throughout Blood and Ashes, and really adds to the reading experience because it gives the book another dimension beyond just the gung-ho action. The prose is uncluttered, with sharp and short sentences adding to the pace set by the incessant action. And the frequent gun-battles and violence are drawn in a believable manner that leaves you in no doubt that the author knows what he is talking about [which in fact, he does. Hilton is an ex police officer and a practitioner of Kempo Ju-Jitsu].
Another brutally fast and brutally addictive novel from Matt Hilton. Ne’er-do-wells beware, Joe Hunter is coming for you!