It was a humid day in
when I picked up Jack, by Al Lamanda.
The loving description of the weather in my hometown—“It was one of those rare
summer days in Virginia
when the temperature was moderate”—told me I was reading a book by someone who
knew the area well. But it was the fast-paced, suspenseful story that told me I
was reading a book by someone who knew how to spin a story. Reminiscent of a
Steven King novel mixed with a spy thriller, Jack will keep you turning pages until the final shocking twist.
We meet Jack and Jennifer Grant right off the bat. Jennifer lives with her son and six Secret Service agents. Why? Her son, Jack, is a psychic of immense power. Jack has the ability to transfer information from one person’s brain to another’s. The government uses him to keep the memories of brilliant scientists alive. But growing up in secrecy, Jack has no chance of a normal childhood—and it’s his mother’s greatest dream to provide that for him.
Enter Secret Service agent Ryan Dunn. Dunn’s a talented operative with years of experience who loves his trusty Glock. When he’s assigned temporarily to Jack’s security detail, he takes it upon himself to reinforce the kid’s defenses with bulletproof shields made from phone books. Throughout the book, he whips up all sorts of makeshift weapons, from bulletproof vests to bombs, using everyday materials. He’s a good shot and willingly kills in Jack and Jennifer’s protection. But he also becomes a father figure to young Jack. Their bonding over chess games comes across as one of the most touching moments of the book.
In many other books, kids with psychic powers are portrayed as creepy. Here, the reader sees Jack as just another kid. And when Agent Dunn whisks Jack and Jennifer on a long-distance trip to hide from their pursuers, we see real family bonds forming between them even as Dunn struggles to uncover a leak in the Service itself. Part of what makes this story so compelling is the touch of realism. We have all the elements of a gritty spy novel included in the same universe as powerful psychic children, yet they blend together in a way that doesn’t feel forced at all.
As much as the protagonists drive the story, the antagonist drags it down. Roman, a Russian mafia boss, is both two-dimensional and feels like he was added as an afterthought. His senselessly evil past includes ordering Dunn’s wife and daughter beat to death with lead pipes, and it’s never quite clear what he wants with Jack. Much better antagonists are the shady government agents struggling to control young Jack, the doctors who run countless tests on him, even Jack’s struggles with controlling his powers and the temptations of his own personal ‘dark side’.
High points: The relationship between Jack and Dunn. This makes both characters sympathetic and easy to root for. Suspense. The audience sees threats to Jack—and because of the sympathy we have towards him, we want him to be safe. Jennifer’s attitude. Loved one scene where she walks around naked to make the agents around her feel uncomfortable. Jennifer and Dunn’s romance. You really want these two to be happy. Dunn’s search for the leak. I thought I had it figured out all along, but I was totally wrong. The idea of transferring memories. Very interesting from a sci-fi point of view and military considerations. Dunn’s impromptu weapons. This guy can whip up spy gear from tin cans and duct tape.
Low points: The twist ending. It feels certainly plausible, but a little more foreshadowing would make it even more powerful. The action sequences. Some fight scenes read like a laundry list of who punched whom. The reveal of Dunn’s past. It motivates his vengeance against the Russian mafia, but we never really see him grieving over his losses. Racial profiling. There’s one scene where a man is arrested as an Iranian spy when Jack reveals Persian is his first language.
Did I like this book? Yes. Would I read it again? Probably. Would I recommend it to people who like sci-fi spy thrillers? Yes. It’s a great story with a few loose ends, and from what I’ve seen of the writer’s skill, those ends could easily be fixed. My rating? In the sci-fi spy genre, I’ll give it four and a half stars out of five. As a novel? Four.
--Liz Ellor, O43
You can download Jack here
--Liz Ellor, O43
You can download Jack here