14 Nov 2006
“The Second Horseman” is a by-the-numbers thriller in which a charming thief is shanghaied by a mysterious government agency to help them recover a dozen nuclear weapons, first by stealing the money needed to buy the weapons, then to travel to the backwaters of Georgia (the country Georgia, not the state Georgia, although the notion of a “Deliverance” remake with nukes thrown into the mix sounds like a promising idea).This is Kyle Mills’ eighth thriller, and he does a good job keeping the characters moving. The first half of the book details Brandon Vale’s journey from temporarily incarcerated thief to shanghaied recruit for a secret agency to head of a gang charged with stealing millions from a Las Vegas casino. The training for and pulling off of the caper makes up the better half of the book.
It’s the second half where things fall apart. While there’s plenty of action and tension — I’m trying not to stray into spoiler territory, so bear with me here — there’s little for Vale to do. He’s a thief, not a secret agent, and he seems to spend most of his time standing by helplessly while the world races towards a possible Armageddon. It’s a bad sign when the supporting cast is more interesting than the star. Mills saves some surprises for the end, but Vale can’t measure up to what we expect the hero to do.
So, despite its promising start “The Second Horseman” ultimately disappoints, but it does entertain at times, and while Mills’ prose is unmemorable, it is serviceable and he does a fine job of keeping all the plot threads in hand.
Genre: 12 Fulfills the basic expectations. There’s uncertainty over the outcome, but looking back, there’s a feeling of disappointment that there wasn’t, well, more.
Realism: 11 What’s presented seems accurate and realistic; there’s nothing more that indicates any particular knowledge about nuclear weapons, the international trade in arms, high-level politics or Middle East diplomacy and history. Tom Clancy this isn’t (which some would consider a blessing).
Character: 10 With his unconventional criminal style and family life, Brandon shows promise at first, but in the end, the more interesting characters are the secondary ones.
Setting: 12 Adequate. Prison, various locations around Los Angeles, the cave in Georgia’s Carpathian mountains, Jordan and Israel. Nothing indicates any depth of knowledge or research.
Theme: 8 In the Bible, the second horseman is associated with civil strife, such as when Jerusalem was assaulted by the Romans in 70 A.D.The title could also be a reference to Brandon’s role as the second buyer of the nukes.
Style: 8 Plain, brisk and forgettable.
Bonus: 6 The story moves at a brisk pace and is reasonably diverting. My doubts arose only after I finished. The Federal Reserve caper that takes up half the book was clever, as were some of the double-crosses, and Brandon is more of an Everyguy rather than heroic.
Other links to BOOK TITLE
- Kyle Mills’ website
- Joe Hartlaub call Vale “an interesting, even charismatic, character who steadies the novel when the plot occasionally stumbles” at The Bookreporter.
- Yvonne Crittenden’s calls it “another hit” at the London (Ontario) Free Press.