The Right Hand by Derek Haas – Book Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews the latest spy thriller from acclaimed author Derek Haas.
“Quite often brilliant, The Right Hand is one of my favourite reads of recent months. I’d love a sequel to this!“ ~The Founding Fields
I have a confession to make: I fear that I am now firmly set on the path to reading intelligence & espionage action-thrillers month-in, month-out. Where I went years without reading any books in this particular genre, in the last five months I’ve read three (the two Shadowstorm novels by G. T. Almasi and this one). And I like all of them. There is a very particular appeal to such books, driven by the intense popularity of globally-recognised brands such as James Bond 007, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, Ethan Hunt, Michael Westen, Nick Fury, Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne among others. Whether it’s teen sleuths or secret service agents or bona fide intelligence operatives, the shine of characters such as these is in the thrill of their missions and investigations, the action, the suspense, the whole mystery of their personalities.
And that’s where Derek Haas’ Austin Clay succeeds tremendously. Austin Clay joins a really phenomenal group, as far as I’m concerned, and the best thing about the whole situation is that he manages to stand apart under his own identity, rather than be lost in the glitz and glamour of everyone else.
To be perfectly honest, the entire plot of the novel isn’t all that different from most other such novels. Austin Clay is sent on a dangerous mission, he tangles big-time with enemy forces, and then he is forced to succeed in his mission against all odds, while also dealing with an internal threat. Derek Haas writes a very engaging narrative nonetheless and there are ample set piece scenes in the novel where the narrative comes across as not being all that cliched. Which is a good thing. I was completely immersed into the narrative and I did not have any issues with anything in it, other than the fact that Austin Clay comes across as nigh invincible, in the same manner that Ethan Hunt, Michael Westen, and James Bond come across as such.
And that’s the heart of the matter. I did not pick up this book because I found the blurb at the back to be the promise of a great story; I picked it up because I wanted to read about a different type of spy than the ones I have read over the years, or seen on television or in movies. In that respect, this was most definitely a novel for me, because I enjoyed all the characters, whether good or bad, major or minor. Each character brought something different to the whole. With regards to the motivations of a few key characters, Derek Haas kept me guessing as to the true driving force behind me, their true motivations, and that made for a very challenging read since there are clues dropped here and there that hint at how the climax will play out, and the novel rewards the reader who pays particular attention to these clues. That’s how it came across to me anyway.
As far as the adult variety of intelligence & espionage action-thrillers are concerned, what makes me them good is when the writer presents significant moral and philosophical challenges for his characters. These trials must be realistic, both for the character(s) in question, as well as the reader. Otherwise, the risk is big where the reader’s willingness to suspension of disbelief is concerned. If the challenges are too easy, or too hard, then the reader will lose interest. If the challenges are outside the realm of what the character(s) may face, then too the reader will lose interest. I know that I most definitely would under such circumstances.
However, that’s where Haas succeeds with Austin Clay and the novel’s supporting cast. Whether it is dealing with the loss of a family member, or betrayal, or a question of ethics and the implicit necessity of orders, the challenges faced by the characters define them and change them by the time “The End” comes up. Reading the novel, I could very well believe that I was right there alongside the characters, watching and observing them make the decision that they do. It’s the characters who are the real gems of this novel, make no mistake.
As any good spy story, The Right Hand travels to some exciting locations, and it presents a very cut-throat world of intelligence and espionage. The body-count in the novel is fairly high, and while it is never overdone, it is not underdone either. There’s a good balance from the author in how he treats his characters to the good and bad of the world he is creating. The different locations serve to emphasise that balance.
The pacing I found to be a good one, no complaints of any sort about it. Derek Haas and Austin Clay hit the ground running with the first few chapters, and the trend continues throughout, culminating ultimately with the climax at the end. There is rarely any let up in the breakneck speed at which Haas has written the narrative, which works great in the context of the plot and the characters. There’s always the sense that events are two minutes to midnight, so to speak, and that something bad is going to happen. Which does happen, as things go really bad in the climax and post-climax.
As a spy thriller, I found The Right Hand to be one to hit all the necessary points on the metaphorical checklist of the genre, and then some. My recommendation would be that you should go and get this novel soon as you can. It definitely is a great experience, and I was never really disappointed with it. If the narrative had been a fair bit more ambitious with more… grandeur to it, I would have liked it far more. But as things stand, I’m satisfied with the experience that I did have. At this point, all I can hope for is that Derek Haas gets to write more Austin Clay adventures.