Ethan Cross (Head of Zeus)
After leaving the NYPD Marcus Williams moves to Asherton, a small town in rural Colorado, looking for a quieter life. It all seems to be going well until, on his second date with the daughter of the local sheriff, they stumble upon the mutilated body of his neighbour. Marcus told himself he wouldn’t get involved, but something isn’t quite right about the crime scene and he can’t help but go back for a closer look…
Soon enough, Marcus is thrust into a conspiracy and has to go on the run. In between evading corrupt law enforcement and trying to investigate, he finds himself in the crosshairs of Francis Ackerman Jr.
Francis Ackermann Jr. is self-proclaimed evil incarnate – a serial killer who loves to play games and brutalise his victims. And he’s been watching Marcus, seeing within him a worthy opponent.
With adversaries closing in from all sides, Marcus doesn’t know who to trust. Now a fugitive, it’s up to him to confront both enemies, before it’s too late.
This is a great crime thriller, featuring murder, corruption, conspiracy and an abduction on the side with fast-paced action throughout. But its real talent is in the villain – Ackerman is certainly a twisted individual and I liked how the story explored his psychology, both as a victim and as a killer. With Criminal Minds coming to an end after 15 seasons, this is clearly going to be my new fix. With the intelligence of Hannibal Lecter, Ackermann makes for an unpredictable adversary.
The characterisation also draws on grand narratives around the hero/villain dichotomy. While Marcus is poised as the righteous hero, Ackerman “often felt like a man trapped in a well but dying of thirst. He felt cursed by the fates to wander the world, trying to propitiate a thirst that could never be quenched and satisfy a hunger that would never diminish. He sometimes compared his own situation to the fates that the Greek gods bestowed upon the likes of Tantalus and Prometheus, destined to spend eternity in torment.” But Ethan Cross also muddies the waters – Ackerman is sometimes presented as more of a victim or a puppet playing a role rather than acting in his own agency: “It’s almost as if he doesn’t kill for himself. It’s like he’s trying to give the world what they expect a crazed killer to be. He’s playing the role that he feels was assigned to him.” Marcus also harbours his own guilt about his past and doesn’t carry the optimistic perspective one might associate with the hero, rather his outlook on the world is rather dark.
I have to share this particular quote which really encapsulates the novel’s outlook on the nature of mankind:
“We live in a society governed by the Church of the Almighty Dollar, built upon the foundations of man’s greed and his never-ceasing bloodlust for power.”
I really enjoyed the book and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series, the way that Marcus and Ackerman interact towards the end of the novel continues to disrupt the hero/villain setup at the beginning of the book.
NB: This series is a republication of the original Shepherd thrillers.