Certain thrillers have the ring of truth to them, which is often the case with authors who have had storied lives of their own. This is definitely true of R.H. Neil, the author of Becoming the Wolf – the first installment of a gripping new detective series.
The premise of a hardworking police officer who feels trapped by the rules of the badge is hardly original, but for JD Ward, the main character of this novel, giving up simply isn’t an option. When he realizes that some criminals simply can’t be brought to justice in a traditional way, he takes on the lonely life of a vigilante, and the White Wolf is born.
Just like most great crime-fighters who operate outside the law, Ward lives by a code of honor, harkening back to his time in the military as a combat tracker, and his humble beginnings as a farmer. Oddly enough, this character backstory is nearly identical to the author’s, and much of the writing has the crispness of memory. The combat details, the police procedural aspects, and the vivid depictions of certain scenes all make this book an invigorating read.
The newly born White Wolf dedicates himself to hunting down a deadly motorcycle gang who would kill him as soon as look at him, and deals out his own form of justice without mercy – all from the cover of the shadows. JD Ward is a dark and complicated character, perpetually wrestling with the death of his father, which he carries around his neck like an anchor. With that hanging on his conscience, he swears to never hesitate in his actions to help others, even if it means breaking the law or putting his own life on the line. He is clearly an honorable man, and highly enjoyable to follow as a protagonist, particularly in those moments when he must tiptoe the line between the two sides of his life. Ward continues his undercover mission to cut the Vine Street Posse down to size as the White Wolf, but it gradually becomes harder for him to keep his secret, and protect the ones he loves.
The writing is dramatic without being corny, while the pace is engaging without feeling rushed. Fight scenes can be notoriously hard to write, but Neil’s scenes are masterful, with vivid vocabulary and just enough description to make the scenes truly come alive. Like a great video game, it seems like Ward works his way through the underbelly of the “bad guys,” facing steeper and deeper odds with every passing chapter, yet still managing to come out alive, without any of it seeming too unrealistic.
Neil has created an excellent hero in JD Ward, giving him the skills, backstory and motivation to carry this series far into the future. The author also takes obvious pleasure in his prose, imbuing even the simplest descriptions with twists of language and clever details that are unique and memorable – the glue holding this book together, and setting it apart.
Most thrillers and high-action novels can get away with weaker language in exchange for cheap entertainment, but that isn’t the case with Becoming the Wolf. This is the complete package for any reader who enjoys clean, well-edited writing, gritty suspense, a rebellious protagonist, and some good old-fashioned justice.
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