Review: Soft Target, by Iain Rob Wright

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About Soft Target

-- From UK's Top Selling Horror & Thriller Author, Iain Rob Wright

NOWHERE IS SAFE... When a quaint village in the United Kingdom is stuck by a suicide bomber, the once proud nation is brought to its knees with grief. Yet that first attack was just the beginning of something much greater and much worse. Something that nobody could ever have predicted.

The days that follow will determine if the UK even has a future left, or if it will be reduced to anarchy and ashes.

The only person that stands between the people of the UK and its complete destruction is an angry, damaged ex-solider named Sarah Stone. Sarah despises her own country and what it did to her, which is what makes it so hard when she is forced to save it.

SOFT TARGET is the first in a series of books featuring acerbic protagonist Sarah Stone. It is a non-stop action thriller in the same vein as 24.


About Iain Rob Wright

Iain Rob Wright is one of the UK's most successful horror and suspense writers, with novels including the critically acclaimed, THE FINAL WINTER; the disturbing bestseller, ASBO; and the wicked screamfest, THE HOUSEMATES.

His work is currently being adapted for graphic novels, audio books, and foreign audiences. He is an active member of the Horror Writer Association and a massive animal lover.

Check out Iain's official website for updates at: http://www.iainrobwright.com or add him on Facebook where he would love to meet you.


My Thoughts

Wright attributes his inspiration for Soft Target to 24, and even goes so far as to quote Jack Bauer's infamous "Damn it!" prior to the book's opening. It's a decidedly fun nod and sets the mood, but let me get this particular bias out of the way right up front: I am an unabashed 24 fan. It's one of my all-time favorite action series, and I was ecstatic to see the Jack Bauer Power Hour make a return to the recently concluded UK-based miniseries, 24: Live Another Day. As it just so happens, Wright's Soft Target is also set in the UK, his homeland, and, inadvertently or not, further reinforces that parallel to 24. To me, Live Another Day was a fine return to form and a bit like a collection of Greatest Hits spread over its half-season run. All of this is to say that when a thriller writer makes the bold claim that their work is in the vein of 24, it's a large promise to live up to.

Soft Target introduces us to Sarah Stone, a physically disfigured and emotionally scarred combat veteran who has lost everything. In 2008, she was abducted by Afghan terrorists, led by Al Al-Hariri, after an IED detonated and killed the soldiers under her command. After suicide bombers start detonating themselves across London, and evidence surfaces linking these terrorists to Al-Hariri's organization, the Major Crimes Unit (Wright's run-down, underfunded and understaffed equivalent to 24's CTU) calls on Stone for help.

While Soft Target draws on the rapid-fire pacing of its inspirational source, Wright, unfortunately,  also brings in some of 24's more notable weaknesses, which is evident in the book's opening. As is typical in these types of thrillers, the narrative is based on the outsider who is called in to assist and who knows far more than the somewhat-bumbling superiors she is assigned to, but whom seem to hardly ever listen, in order to generate more conflict and ratchet up the tension. For instance, after receiving a video attributing the terror attacks to an Afghan terrorist, Sarah Stone instantly knows the video is fake and rifles off certain key aspects to support her theory, primarily the misplaced henna tattoo of the videoed spokesman. It takes some convincing, but eventually MCU is forced to acquiesce to Stone's knowledge and let her run the show. In between, there's snarky inter-personal conflicts galore, many of which are instigated by Stone, who is intent on maintaining her outsider lone-wolf status by making bad jokes and generally treating those around her with brusqueness and a cold shoulder attitude.

I was a bit put off by Stone's self-ascribed bitchiness initially, but Wright was able to layer her personality and unravel the past horrors of her capture in Afghanistan expertly, and, eventually, win me over to her side. There are several flashbacks to Stone's time in the military, which shed so much light on her current scarred psyche that by book's end it has actually become quite difficult to not sympathize with her, and she transforms into a figure to root for. The way Wright shades in her history is much appreciated, and those 2008 flashbacks were oftentimes the greatest strength of the book and carried the most emotional resonance.

The Afghanistan interstitials and the mad-bomber threat of the premise alone were enough to keep me turning pages, and by book's end I was fully invested and completely won over. The action is pretty solid, oftentimes exciting, and I was drawn in by the mystery of why seemingly normal UK citizens were suddenly turning into terrorists (although, this particular issue was not fully resolved with satisfaction or with enough clarity to approach closure, but that may be a subject for the next book). While I still have a bit of those initial misgivings, and there were several scenes that fell a bit flat for me, I can examine them with hindsight and see a tad more clearly what Wright was attempting and where both he and his characters were in terms of head-space.

Soft Target may not reach the glories of 24 in its heyday, but it's ultimately worth a read. It's a fun, fast-paced thriller, which is ultimately more important than how well it stacks up as a 24 clone. And while I was a bit put-off by Sarah Stone during the opening moments, her past was sufficiently detailed while her present-day experiences helped to shape and inform her, and help her grow to the point that I'll be looking forward to seeing where Wright takes her next. I think she could develop into an interesting, multi-layered heroine and the series as a whole has much potential. Soft Target is a good start to a new adventure series, and I'm hopeful it'll have an explosive future.

At the time of this writing, Soft Target is available for free on Amazon for a limited time, which makes giving this book a try that much easier.

Spoilers for 24: Live Another Day in the comments below. Consider this your warning!

Michael Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.


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