DIAMONDBACK by James Reasoner
James Reasoner’s book, Diamondback, reads like a throwback to the old cop shows of the 1980s and the men’s action adventure series of the 1970s. But there’s a reason for that. The book was actually written back then, but the action adventure market dried up before the author could sell the book. With the advent of ebooks, he put it up for sale.
I remember haunting used book stories for books like this one while I was growing up. The racks were filled with lurid covers of strong men, half-dressed women, exotic guns, and big explosions. I had a strong appetite for those back then, and have to admit that I still have a sweet tooth for them now and again even though I’ve supposedly matured.
I still believe in tough guy heroes, and Tom Sloane, the hero of this novel, has all the earmarks of one. Even though this is a new character, I settled into him at once. I’ve seen him around a thousand times in various incarnations, even told his story myself a few dozen times, so I had an instant familiarity with Sloane and his story.
The thing that sets this book apart from several action adventure novels of the day is the Texas background. Reasoner lives in Texas and loves his state. It shows in the book, even though he doesn’t mind pointing out some of the failing Texas has as well. Most of the novels back then were exotic in some fashion, rambling metropolitan places, areas of international intrigue, and the villains were people and organizations that menaced the world.
Sloane’s world is smaller than that, but it’s up on a big canvas. Reasoner kicks the ball into motion on the first page and doesn’t really let up much. There is the inevitable “kicked off the force” moment followed by a readjustment in Sloane’s life as he tries to figure out what he’s going to do next. That gets thrown into an even wilder arc as assassins try to kill him and he ends up in front of Big Jack, one of the richest men in Texas, who’s also looking for his own personal policeman to clean up corners of Texas that the police can’t seem to get to.
Like I said, the premise is very familiar, but so are Doritos, and you can’t just eat one of those, either. Reading the novel was like taking a trip back to those “old days” of the ‘70s and ‘80s, and I could tell where Reasoner stuck in some modern day artifacts, like mentioning the cell phone. But those actually seemed to get in the way of the story. I just noticed them too much because I also noticed that he didn’t use them much.
The action kept me moving along just fine, and the issues that Reasoner plays out in the book – racism and big money – are still just a relevant today as they were thirty years ago.
I don’t know if Reasoner is planning to do another Tom Sloane book, it was originally planned as the first book of a series, but I’ll definitely pick it up and read it if he does.