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PUBLISHER: Forge Books
Mad Dogs by James Grady is a slam dunk of adrenaline that does not stop to let you breathe and you’ll beg it to keep going harder and harder until you’re gasping for air. It is an insane comic drama and it kicked my ass.
The plot is simple, but so genius and hilarious that I can’t believe I haven’t seen it before. Five former CIA agents, four men and one woman, are totally broken from various fucked up missions and are treated in a top secret CIA Mental institution called The Castle. Their lives are simple, they get treated by various psychiatrists and quietly live with their trauma’s and insanity until one day their latest psychiatrist is brutally murdered and their un-official leader Victor realizes they’ll be framed for it, so he leads their escape and go on the run to find the real killer with no real plan and just their government training to help them.
I was in love with the novel when in their escape; they taped the doctor’s corpse to the institution’s fence as a warning to the killer that they’re on their way.
Mad Dogs has many levels. It’s a thriller with five capable former secret agents, but it is also a hilarious road trip with five very messed up dangerous people who don’t trust anyone but each other. It is also a tragedy because it slowly becomes apparent that with each person, the government they risked their lives for failed them very very badly. Each character has his story told and they’re difficult to get through. They’re real horror stories, from rape, to accidental murder, to losing somebody that you love in the line of duty and not blowing your cover.
Victor is a wonderful protagonist. Grady writes him as a tough guy, a mixed breed of all the famous fictional spies of the government world who finally cracked and was quietly shuffled off so his CIA masters wouldn’t be embarrassed. He knows very well that they’re all nuts, but he doesn’t want to take a fall for a guy they liked. He knows their plan is fragile and constantly worries that he’s just going to lead his friends into bloody deaths. The rest of the characters are also wonderfully written as well. Zane was a Vietnam POW who had the bright idea to bug the phone wires to listen to the Viet Cong and in the process, watches his best friend get tortured and killed. Eric was an engineer in Desert Storm who in the process of a good deed, gets captured and tortured and…well, it doesn’t turn out well for him. Hailey gets mixed up with a drug kingpin and has to be used for sex repeatedly so her cover isn’t blown, and Russell is the Action Man of the group and he had to do something so heinous and vile that his mind shattered. Their stories come out slowly and as you understand their pasts, their motivations and actions are understood with chilling clarity. All the characters have a great dynamic with each other and you’ll grow to love the relationship between Eric and Hailey and will be devastated by the ending like I was.
But it’s not all gloom, it’s really fucking funny. Victor is a great narrator, wry and sarcastic with a unique view of the world and his friends. All the characters are no B.S. individuals and that leads to some very funny bickering and observations of the world. Plus, you have to love a novel where the protagonist’s high-jack a porno shop to recon the bad guys and Zane is said to look like an Albino Jesus.
The tension is high because they put a time limit on themselves. They figure they have seven days, even with the meds they cleverly conned out of people, before they shut down without their proper pill dosages. Grady doesn’t cheat either, our heroes are very visibly breaking down and only keep it together just enough because they each other and believe in their mission.
The action is great without selling out and going pyrokinetic and dumb. All their moves and techniques are realistic and plausible, and my favorite action scene of the year is when CIA hunters are after them in a club and Victor breaks out martial arts with them, just narrowly escaping their clutches, while Russell is singing “Can’t get no (Satisfaction) on the stage and totally rocking the house.
And what upsets Russell about the attack on them? The fact that he wasn’t going to get laid by the female lead singer of the band he was jamming with.
Unfortunately, the ending is a little too convenient, and the villain is a little too eeeeevil while our heroes have been written so well and their insanity so heart-breaking. Things also come a little too easily for them, when they haven’t been in the field for years, especially Zane who had been institutionalized for over thirty years. Still, it’s an insane hallucogenic action comedy road trip with realistically written characters that I had grown to love and cheered them on their whole journey for redemption and some kind of peace.
This is a great novel and the best thriller that I read this year.
8.75 out of 10