The King – Steven James

The King Steven James
The King by Steven James
Series: Bowers Files #6
Published by Signet on July 2, 2013
Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
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five-stars

FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers has matched wits with some of the most violent serial killers in history—and one of them has never forgiven him....

Patrick Bowers has pursued the nation’s fiercest serial killers—and now one elusive foe is back for revenge. Settling into a new post at the FBI academy, Patrick and his fiancée, Lien-hua Jiang, are planning their future together with his stepdaughter, Tessa.

But just when his life seems normal, a demon from the past returns to draw him down a dark road he hoped had closed forever. Forced into a desperate hunt to save the two women he loves most, Patrick is in a race against time to stop an international conspiracy from becoming the most widespread act of terrorism in U.S. history.

Patrick Bowers has seen a lot in his time as an FBI environmental criminologist. His specialty, by its nature, pits him against the most evil serial killers in history. Rather than look at one specific crime, Bowers looks at serial crimes and their environmental clues. What does the location tell us of the killer? Can we determine where he’ll strike next based on where he’s struck in the past? Can we determine the killer’s home based on the location of his crimes? These, and a host of other questions, set Bowers apart from the typical detective, and in one of the factors that sets the Bowers Files apart from most detective stories.

Throughout the six previous books in the series, one figure has haunted every story, his storyline slowly developing over the years. After five years of waiting, readers finally got more than a taste of (pun so very intended) of the cannibalistic killer Richard Devin Basque. Throughout the first five book, Basque is alluded to or made part of a side plot. He’s the first serial killer Bowers ever caught, back before he was FBI. James took his readers through a slew of well-crafted, poignantly-themed, and knock your socks off thrillers, all the while keeping the specter of Basque mostly in the background, slowly building up the intensity. Basque gained focus in The Knight, where we saw him released from prison on a technicality. He became even more a focal point in The Queen, as he immediately began killing and Bowers went off hunting him. Then, last year, James gave us Opening Moves, the prequel we’d been waiting for. Focusing on Basque and Bower’s first encounter, it provided the years-long payoff readers had been waiting for.

But that was only a foretaste of the real thing; it was a stellar story that served to perfectly set up James’s latest and penultimate installment of the Bowers files: The King. Now despite the lengthy history I’ve painted here, there is no reason to avoid The King simply because you’ve not read the previous novels. James is careful to craft his latest as a standalone thriller—but one that will be significantly heightened if you know what’s gone on before. So if you’ve never read Steven James, start with The King. But have your credit card ready to order the rest of the series as soon as you turn the last page.

Richard Devin Basque is one of the most terrifying book villains I have ever read. James does not shy away from creating characters that are wholly evil and presenting that vividly through his prose. It’s never gore for gore’s sake, never glorifies evil, but rather paints it with the blackest of strokes so that it may be seen for what it really is. The novel begins with Bowers settling into a new life: he’s going to teach at the FBI Academy, he and fiancée Lien-Hua Jiang are planning their wedding, and his relationship with his stepdaughter Tessa is finally stable. Basque steps in to attempt to destroy all of that.

The primary storyline is this very personal battle between Bowers and Basque, teasing out the theme of revenge, asking the question of how a Christian should deal with such abject evil. But, as always, there’s another storyline in the background, involving another mysterious figure from Bowers’ past. This adds another tendril to the story, giving it depth and keeping it from becoming single-minded.

As always, the plotting and pacing are brilliant; the questions raised and themes explored are poignant; and the relational aspects are well written. Steven James is one of the best storytellers out there and Patrick Bowers is one of the best fictional detectives. This may well end up being my favorite book of the year.

five-stars

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