It has been waayyy too long since I’ve read a thriller. I’d forgotten how much I miss the amount of action jammed into 244 pages and this book does not disappoint in the action category. The first sentence is Santa getting shot in the head. Horrifying? Yes, but mostly because there was a small child on his lap at the time. The sad thing is: after the roar of the holidays, it’s oddly okay for Santa to be the first person in a long line of terrorist victims in this book. However, thought the terrorists are in fact terrifying, Hunter does a wonderful job of highlighting the bravery of the hostages, especially Marine sniper Ray Cruz. It was incredibly delightful to read about his badassery.
Black Friday, America’s largest shopping mall, Suburban Minneapolis 3:00 P.M.
Ten thousand people jam the aisles, the corridors, the elevators, and the escalators of America, the Mall—a giant Rubik’s Cube of a structure with its own amusement park located in the spacious center atrium. Of those people, nine thousand nine hundred and eighty-eight have come to shop. The other twelve have come to kill.
Stephen Hunter’s hyper-drive, eighth-gear new thriller, Soft Target, chronicles the day when the unthinkable happens: twelve gunmen open fire in the mall corridors, driving the pack before them. Those on the upper floors take cover or get out any way they can; but within a few minutes the gunmen have herded more than a thousand hostages into the amusement park.
Here’s the thing about Ray Cruz, he’s completely amazing. He’s like Dirk Pitt, but more real and believable. He actually has weaknesses, which is kind of rare in this kind of storyline. Usually the hero is portrayed as invincible. Even when they’re in the worst possible situation, they’ll get out of it and get the girl/gold/hostages. Ray Cruz doesn’t come off as someone you have to suspend your disbelief to see as a real Human Being. He seems like a real man who has seen way too much action, but has an impetus to fight for people who can’t and it’s wonderful to get to watch him in action.
The bad guy is just as well written. He’s completely insane and thoroughly vile and evil, but you at least get the infinite pleasure of getting to hate him. Hunter does a wonderful job of filling the bad guy’s back story in. He’s one of the psychos that doesn’t need a reason to hurt and/or hate people. He just enjoys watching them suffer and thanks to that, I get to have no qualms wishing him harm. He’s horrifying because he’s a human being capable of that much villainy. However, on some level, there are kind of two bad guys, though the second is far less bad that the first. The second bad guy is Colonel Obobo, the head of the Minnesota State Police. He’s slimy and arrogant and I really wanted to see him get his ass handed to him the whole freaking time. He reminded me of the congressmen who are currently doing nothing but bickering between themselves. I found him to be galling and oh, how I wanted to see his downfall.
Hunter does a superb job of separating the good from the bad, even when the bad is part of the good. There’s a whole team of good guys who are falling over themselves to try to bring the situation to a close with a minimal number of casualties and Hunter writes them so well. He instills them with bravery and honor. He makes you root for them on a visceral level and I loved every second of it.
One last thought: as I read through the story, a small part of me was dreading the video game component. A little way in, I had this moment of trepidation when I realized that this could be just another story about how video games turn kids from innocence to violence. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to find that that wasn’t the case at all. Sure there’s certainly a creepy video game component, but Hunter goes out of his way to make sure you understand that it’s not the video game’s fault. It’s just that the bad guy is so freaking evil. He even mentions in his Acknowledgments that he’s not anti-video game and that made me smile.
In the end, this story is filled with action and gore and it’ll make your heart race. It’ll make you stay up way past when you were planning on going to bed because you will need to know how it ends.
4 ink bottles.