– Matt Wells
There’s more than a little scheming going on in The Nameless Dead, the fourth, and last, book in author Paul Johnston’s Matt Wells series. In his guest post yesterday, Paul gave a much better summary of The Nameless Dead (and series as a whole) than I possibly could, so do check that out for a more detailed setup. The short version…
Following their involuntary assassination attempt on the President of the United States, British crime novelist Matt Wells and his pregnant girlfriend, London Metropolitan Detective Chief Superintendent Karen Oaten, are being held by the FBI. As their activities were the result of a mind control experiment performed by a Neo-Nazi group, the FBI is working on deprogramming Wells and Oaten.
Of course things wouldn’t be any fun if it was that simple. So when bodies begin turning up killed in a gruesome ritualistic manner reminiscent of that Neo-Nazi group, the FBI gets the bright idea to use Wells’ programming to their advantage and turn him loose to hunt down the group’s leader, Heinz Rothmann, the man responsible for Wells and Oaten’s predicament. As you’d expect, things don’t quite go as planned.
What plays out is another wonderfully, deliciously twisted Paul Johnston special. With virtually any other author the sheer volume of activity going on in The Nameless Dead (we also have a vengeful former lover who happens to be a world-class assassin, a satanic cult, and the continuing Manchurian Candidate-esque elements) would be near impossible to handle, but not only does Johnston do so, he does it with impressive ease. Taking elements of a traditional thriller (the FBI /hero working to stop a criminal plot), horror (satanic cults, graphically detailed ritual murders), and scientific experimentation (mind control) and mashing them all together, Johnston has cornered the market on some of the most creatively intense storytelling you’ll ever read.
Johnston does provide enough information in The Nameless Dead that reading the previous books in the series is not necessary, though I do think having read its immediate predecessor, Maps of Hell, at the very least will enhance your enjoyment. As with the previous books in the series, the science behind events (in this case the mind control experimentation) is explained in believable detail, and the history behind the activities of Heinz Rothmann is equally well and thoroughly presented. There is also a healthy dose of dark humor laced throughout the story, never more evident than in the breakneck final quarter of the book, allowing Wells to move forward through unbelievably grim circumstances with a sort of gallows humor.
Perhaps the most impressive feat Johnston manages to pull off, however, is the marvelous blurring of the lines of morality for each character. Just when you think Wells is a man motivated by justifiable rage and “pure” intentions he does something that pushes the boundaries of acceptable, while at the same time you’ll find a ruthless assassin doing things that will make you question just how ruthless they really are. Where does a search for justice cross the line and become a quest for revenge? When does a seemingly unjustifiable act of violence become an acceptable (if pro-active) act of self-defense/preservation? Johnston constantly challenges the reader to question the very core concepts of “good” and “evil” as played out under continuously shifting circumstances of threat and loss.
Johnston’s books are no place for the timid or those unwilling to deal with a story more complicated than a paint-by-numbers thriller, but if you’re willing to take a step – or three – somewhat off the beaten path I guarantee you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more satisfyingly challenging and enjoyable read.
The Nameless Dead is available from Mira (ISBN: 978-0778329503).