Having really enjoyed his debut novel and the first Travis Chase adventure The Breach
, I had hoped that Patrick Lee's follow-up novel Ghost Country would offer up a five star experience. Its just a little disappointing therefore, to have to report that whilst this second outing for Travis Chase and the folks from Tangent is highly entertaining and at least on a par with The Breach it fails to truly surpass its predecessor and features some quite glaring weaknesses.
The most significant of these is the conspiracy that brings Travis Chase (still a horrible name) back into Tangent's orbit. For the first half of the book, whilst the precise nature of the conspiracy and its eventual aims remains deliberately obscured from both Travis & Paige and us readers, Ghost Country works fine. When the conspiracy's goal and methodology were revealed however, I just found myself unable to suspend my disbelief enough to go along with it. I could happily accept the principal of time travel, which features heavily in the book, but without giving away any key plot points, the motivation behind the conspiracy, its mechanics and what it would ultimately achieve just didn't work for me. Not when you considered precisely how many people would have to sign up to it and who they were. I could have believed a small cabal could come up with something so twisted and evil but not that hundreds or even thousands of disparate individuals would sign on and keep schtum about it for years.
It didn't help that the conspirators' plans also felt very half-baked and none of the individuals involved ever came alive as characters. In fact readers are only really introduced to one key conspirator, and he's never given enough time or space on the page to develop as a three dimensional character. All the other bad guys, bar a few expendable goons, remain off stage for most of the book's duration.
Despite these formidable problems however, Ghost Country remains easily worthy of a four star review; its strengths outweighing its weaknesses. Despite his ridiculous action hero name, Chase remains a compelling character and grows as an individual during the course of the book. Paige gets less development but remains a competent heroine and Bethany, making her first appearance, is a great addition to the Tangent team.
The time travel maguffin that drives the plot is clever and well thought out. As with The Breach I would warn off any readers who like their thrillers straight up and without any sci-fi trappings. Ghost Country relies heavily on sci-fi plot devices to drive the story along, so a strong ability to suspend disbelief is required.
As with The Breach the action sequences are brilliantly handled. The tone and pace of Ghost Country is very different to the previous book, with violence & action less frequent, but when the guns do start firing its punchy, exciting and dramatic. Personally I'm quite grateful that Lee has toned down the violence this time around. Parts of The Breach, especially the Zurich incident, just felt gratuitous last time out. There is a similarly high death toll in Ghost Country, but its revealed after the fact and handled much more subtly. In fact the scenes where Chase, Paige and Bethany encounter the human cost of the conspiracy are simultaneously unsettling, powerful & moving.
With a race against time, edge of the seat finale that had me rushing through the final fifty-odd pages of the book, Ghost Country doesn't lack for thrills and spills. It also moves along many of the plot threads that were established back during The Breach and left unresolved at the end of that novel. Some are tied off nicely, others left flapping intriguingly. Either way I will look forward to Chase's next adventure. I just hope that Patrick Lee manages to come up with a more successful threat for him and Tangent to go up against.