The Tenth Circle, the latest book in Jon Land’s Blaine McCracken series, is the definition of a page-turner in the suspense genre. We first meet McCracken in Iran, where Israel has enlisted him to pull off an impossible one-man mission in the face of a devastating nuclear threat. This intense episode becomes just a prelude to the high-octane action that Land delivers in the novel’s central story. Once back in the United States, McCracken is met with a close personal tragedy that ties into a string of violent acts of domestic terrorism across the country. His search for answers leads him to one man, the Reverend Jeremiah Rule, whose rampage of extremism has escalated with the acquisition of the White Death, a weapon that could cripple the United States dramatically. Along with his comrades – including the preternaturally lethal Native American, Johnny Wareagle, and the hilariously rendered pot-smoking Captain Seven – McCracken works to uncover the truth behind the White Death, a history that will lead him to answer two of history’s greatest mysteries: the disappearance of British settlers in the 16th century Roanoke colony, and the vanishing of an entire crew from a 19th century ship, the Mary Celeste.
The mystery at the core of The Tenth Circle is wonderfully crafted, and the narrative is superbly achieved. It’s easy to imagine the challenge of writing a suspenseful action thriller that weaves in so much detail – both historic and modern – but Land seems to balance it all with ease. The nonstop energy of the novel’s pacing and the intricacy of the story’s detail combine to create a book that seems capable of pleasing the reader on every level. A component of The Tenth Circle that I especially enjoyed was the uniqueness of Land’s characters, from McCracken at the story’s focus to the variety of supporting characters that bring the depth of the novel to life. A particular favorite and great example is Zarrin, a Palestinian pianist-cum-assassin whose legendary ease of lethal action has been matched by her battle with Parkinson’s. Amid the barrage of explosive action, Zarrin’s personal journey manages to play out in poignant interludes that create a wonderfully engaging story within the story.
While religious extremism isn’t a device that I prefer in a novel’s antagonist, Land’s portrayal of the Reverend Rule was very well done as the illustration of a man driven to instability by past crimes and the desperate search for redemption. The complexity of the character grows with every revelation of his past and present mistakes, each more disturbing than the next. Countering the very emotional villainy in Rule is the remarkable science behind the “White Death”, a true weapon of mass destruction created by the earth itself. I was fascinated by the way Land presented the deadly chemical to the reader in such an intricately detailed yet genuinely believable way. Its ties to the great historical mysteries in the story were equally impressive, revealing the depth and intensity of research that went into the novel.
Blaine McCracken himself is an admirably diverse character with a lot of heart, and patience for little more than getting to the root of the problem - with haste. His interactions with others, friends and adversaries alike, jump off the page with as much style as the richly crafted action sequences. With sharp pacing, a superbly detailed narrative, and plenty of unexpected surprises, The Tenth Circle manages to break the mold of the political thriller while still delivering all of the hallmarks that adventure-seeking readers have come to love.