Monday, November 20, 2023

Aubrey Nye Hamilton Reviews: Hostage Zero by John Gilstrap

John Gilstrap’s series of thrillers about an ex-military officer who runs a security services company and who performs high-risk hostage and kidnap rescues as an unadvertised capability has become my go-to for absorbing but predictable reading. Predictable because the main characters have become familiar. There’s Jonathan Grave, owner and brains of the outfit, who loves the outcomes of his work but doesn’t always like the paths to achieving them or the collateral damage. His friend Brian Van de Meulebroeke, known as Boxer, supplies the brawn and expert knowledge of explosives. I can always count on at least one spectacular scene involving C-4, Semtex, or their relatives, resulting in mass destruction of something. The third member of their team is Venice, whose computer skills include hacking, esoteric research, and satellite networks. At least once in every book I’ve read, she saves Jonathan and Boxer from certain death through her deployment of advanced technology. Secondary characters are Grave’s friend Father Dominic, who serves as an external conscience for Grave, and Irene Rivers, FBI director whose association with Grave extends well into the past. She and Grave feel free to call on each other for help and to use their influence to keep the other out of trouble.

Gilstrap takes this well-rounded set of characters and plops them into one original scenario after another, always managing to save the victims while delivering justice to the bad guys. Think of a modern version of the 1950s television Westerns and it might look a lot like these books.

In Hostage Zero (Pinnacle, 2010) Grave and Boxer are pulled into the rescue of two teenage boys who have been inexplicably kidnapped from their boarding school in Virginia. Grave is happy to bring them home but first he has to find them, which turns out to be far more difficult than expected. Add killers for hire, organized crime, corrupt politicians, cocaine production in Colombia, and a homeless veteran who wanders into the middle of it all, and the result is a complicated story with multiple threads that unwind at breakneck speed.

Gilstrap always incorporates a political backstory into the plot. He lived in northern Virginia near Washington for years and keeps his thumb on the pulse of the action there. He is also deeply knowledgeable about firearms; entire paragraphs are devoted to the firepower that Grave and Boxer carry with them on any venture.

I especially enjoy the way Gilstrap works actual local landmarks into the story. In this volume he references the Torpedo Factory, a building once devoted to World War II munitions production but now is an art gallery and studio. The detail about Vienna, Virginia, a small town in Fairfax County that Gilstrap clearly knows well, is great. He’s used the Vienna library as a meeting place for a couple of spies, referencing the tiny parking lot, which in real life is the bane of residents. In this outing Grave meets River at the “Maple Inn”, a pseudonym for the genuine Vienna Inn on Maple Avenue in Vienna, known as a local hangout and for its killer chili dogs.

I read these books as I find them, reading them out of publication order doesn’t affect understanding the story at all. Highly recommended for fans of intelligent thrillers and political crime fiction.

Starred review from Publishers Weekly.



Aubrey Nye Hamilton ©2023

Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal It projects by day and reads mysteries at night.


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