All The Big Ones Are Dead

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Endangered species are endangered for a lot of reasons— encroachment on their habitat, climate change, human disregard for the environment — but, by far, the most insidious reason is poaching. Poachers decimate populations of elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horns, and the black market demand for such rarities is fierce. The potential is so lucrative that terrorist organizations pursue poaching as a source of income over kidnapping, oil, and other activities.

After decades of spinning their wheels, an international task force has a new plan to take down not only the poachers but to trace the higher-ups behind the operation. Their secret weapon? CIA agent Michael Bishop, the man in the field. Cold, calculating, and immensely capable, Bishop will start in the wilds of Africa at the poacher level, and follow the money chain all the way to the source. As an elite group of agents assists him from afar, Bishop works in the trenches, doing what must be done.

Half a world away, a criminal mastermind is at work securing his power base, eliminating loose ends and destroying lives for both his own gain and his own amusement. Little does he know he is on a collision course with Michael Bishop, and the showdown could have global consequences.

All the Big Ones Are Dead goes beyond the traditional techno-thriller spycraft tropes to tell an engaging story about the difference a small, dedicated group can make. Avoiding one-dimensional characters, the novel revels in the moral complexities of real life, presenting numerous major and minor characters with their own foibles and flaws. Nobody is squeaky clean in this book, and for the most part, all of their choices — no matter how selfish or heinous — at least make sense according to their own singular worldviews.

That grit adds layers to what might’ve been a lesser adventure in other hands. Save for the main villain of the piece, everyone feels realistic, and their choices make sense. The African authorities are not cartoonishly corrupt or incompetent, the tech-savvy investigators do not have CSI-level superpowers, and Bishop, no matter how capable and cunning, is not invincible. These are small touches, but they contribute to a more satisfying, believable story in which the audience can invest. In fact, if the novel wasn’t so well-paced, that adherence to realism might’ve worked against it. The investigation is undertaken step by meticulous step, and I suspect there will be an occasional reader who is put off by the novel’s unwillingness to fast-track confrontations between Bishop and the key villains. Most readers, however, will enjoy the journey as much as the conclusion, as the more we spend time in this world, we’re rewarded not just with more time with the intriguing protagonist, but opportunity to deepen our distaste and disdain for the antagonist and his many cronies.

I was pleasantly surprised by the conclusion of the novel as well; the long road to get there is worthwhile, and along the way, there manages to be an all-hope-is-lost moment so convincing that the vast majority of readers will bite immediately. It’s a brave storytelling choice, and one that is resolved cleverly, without tricks or deus ex machina needed.

All the Big Ones Are Dead exceeds expectations on all fronts, telling a well-woven, exciting story of good vs. evil that puts a new spin on the old thriller archetypes.


Reviewed By:

Author Christopher A. Gray, Howard E. Carson
Star Count 4.5/5
Format Trade
Page Count 354 pages
Publisher Sunbow Press
Publish Date 2019-04-21
ISBN 9781926433141
Amazon Buy this Book
Issue July 2019
Category Mystery, Crime & Thriller
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