When the world stops working and the oil runs out, no one is exactly sure what sort of chaos will unfold, but author Carl H. Mitchell has a pretty good idea. Sundown: Engineering Gives the Devil a Sunburn is an ambitious and entertaining peek into what lies ahead for the world. A corrupt Supreme Leader is pulling the world’s strings in dangerous directions, the fabric of American democracy has crumbled, and survival is becoming more important than maintaining any semblance of society.
The novel begins with a bang – or rather a strangle – of the vice president of the United States, and the book’s rugged hero, Nick Garvey, is handed the case. From there, the investigation begins and the intensity rarely slows. Garvey is involved in almost every subplot of the novel in some way, and he is stretched thin as a detective perpetually living on the edge. However, there is much more going on above his pay grade that might explain the brutal murder of the VP, as well as the strange behavior of Jason Beck, the Supreme Leader of the World Council.
Swerving wildly between his personal struggles, political maneuverings, and covert plots that threaten to undermine what little hope is left in New York City, Nick Garvey is a fascinating center point of the novel, with enough grit to weather anything coming his way. That being said, he is also more than a vengeful vigilante – he has a softer side, a deep love for his family, and a strong social conscience, manifesting as a desire to improve the world that he has seen fall apart.
What readers are given is a visceral look into a possible future, where law and order has essentially collapsed. Crime runs rampant, cities feel more like urban prisons, and those in power care little for the peasants their plans crush. “Savage” is a good word to describe Mitchell’s vision of the future, but within this brutal future that would make even Cormac McCarthy raise an eyebrow, there are still a few shreds of hope and goodness – and Garvey is determined to root them out. Put together, it’s an enthralling mix of a cautionary tale and suspenseful thriller.
The writing is captivating, and this futuristic world is beautifully conceived. There are constant supporting details that make this universe seem painfully real and frighteningly possible, given our current trajectory as a global society. There are a few narrative stumbles, particularly the repetitive use of certain words, and a few grammatical errors that could have been caught on a final editing sweep. Overall, however, the exposition is well-balanced with action, the characters are believable and memorable, and the plot is well-constructed and plausible – even the explanations of the most convoluted plots and schemes have a core reality.
Mitchell clearly envisioned this world in its entirety, and then went about creating it in a thrilling work of speculative fiction. With two more books to come, this first book in the series lays the groundwork for an exciting and terrifying look at a bleak future, framed within a novel of riveting suspense.
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