darkest goth Magazine
Written by JT Hanke
Just before he died, Robert Ludlum penned an incredible thriller called The Janson Directive, about government contract killer Paul Janson; known as, “The Machine,” he was the epitome of unstoppable brutality. When the Machine took on one too many deadly cases, he found himself being hunted by a deadly assassin who’s just as unstoppable.
The twists in the story made folks highly intrigued and left most people wishing that another book could come about, despite the author’s death. Nearly a decade later, Paul Garrison—known for maritime tales such as Fire and Ice, Red Sky at Morning, and Buried at Sea—picked up the mantle for the Janson sequel. The Janson Command explored the idea that Janson created the Phoenix Foundation to repair and rehabilitate ex-operators and government trigger men in an elite version of the “Wounded Warrior” program. As with all noble plans, with the existence of free will, some beneficiaries of this program chose to use this assistance to follow a path of corruption, rather than a path of redemption.
In the newest chapter in the saga, Janson and his sniper protégé, Jessica Kincaid, are presented with a plea to help one of their enemies from the past book when his noble-blood wife is kidnapped. Against their better judgment, they take the case and head back to war torn Africa to deal with Somali pirates, knowing that there are games afoot that they can’t even begin to process.
While it was favorably received in general, The Janson Command received some flack from fans for being “too slow a build” with “not enough happening for until the every end.” (An ironic criticism given the fact that Ludlum himself suffered from George-R.R.-Martin disease—ie great big picture thinker with the defective notion that “why use one word when ten words will do”; a fact that led to books that desperately needed editorial pruning. As such, if anything, Garrison’s criticism for The Janson Command should’ve been that he did too good job of replicating Ludlum!) Fortunately for everyone, unlike some of the other Ludlum continuation authors that have continued to try to replicate Ludlum’s flawed style, Garrison was able to use his second novel in the franchise to really showcase his distinct style and the storytelling became much tighter, invigorating, and compelling.
The new tale sews up some of the loose threads from the last novel and really makes the Janson team and their CatsPaw/Phoenix Foundation band come alive. Its really hard to put down, as the flow of action pushes things hard without shying away some chilling questions about the human condition and the monsters we’ll allow ourselves to become when we switch off our critical thinking skills.
One of the things I am growing to love about Garrison is his unflinching way of using story and interpersonal dynamics to explore dueling questions of things like war and peace, ethics and expediency, and governments and corporations–without using cheap arguments or solutions.
It’s the sort of questions that shows like “Burn Notice” have done a great job of asking on a smaller scale—but the concept gets the volume ratcheted way up when an assassin asks those same questions about regaining his humanity. As most of our readers know, when the volume gets turned up, any little mistake is blaringly obvious; it’s so easy in that situation to create moralizing propaganda (on either side of the aisle) or to try to have the character get rid of the very things that make him who he is. To be able to retain a deft touch in that situation is the sign of masterful writing.
And Garrison does it in a way that’s so authentic and chilling that when Janson offhandedly mentions that he’s concerned about children being implanted with bombs because “it’s what [he] would’ve done” for a certain type of assassination, you believe him, are horrified that you believe him, and are immediately curious about his journey because of it. (In the last book, his first name of Paul is explored in comparison to the Christian missionary who atoned for his life of murder and chaos by serving the very people he’d once hunted; it’s a powerful notion that continues to be explored in the new book.) The fact that he doesn’t provide cookie cutter answers to things is immensely satisfying—especially when some of Janson’s own decisions, coupled with the free will of others, lead to more people dying.
One of the core dynamics Garrison explores in this series is simply: people can help or hurt situations, but if your goal is not to hurt anyone, you’ve already lost; rather, do your best to help more people than you hurt. That from the mind of a self-professed “serial killer for hire” is especially powerful—and gothic.
Some of our readers might see the name of a dead author on a new book and be quick to move along. I tend to be right there with you. The popularity of sticking a dead author’s name on a new book is one I just don’t understand—because you’re overshadowing the new writer’s talent with the name of a writer who, in all actuality, had nothing to do with this novel.
With that said, continuing series for passed away authors can be a huge way for talented authors to get more recognition. We all remember the Wheel of Time series which was concluded by the incredibly talented Brandon Sanderson. I could never get into Jordan’s work, but Sanderson was a rock star that had already started amazing series like Mistborn; Wheel of Time served to get his name out there in a big way and resulted in much larger marketing pushes for Sanderson’s other work.
In just that way, Garrison has proven himself an amazing author who’s choice to embrace hard questions in the midst of a fast paced story earns him high honors and would be a great choice for our readers. If you’ve never read any of the Janson books, you can pick this one up and enjoy the ride completely on its own—but, if you pick up the earlier novels, you’ll get a chance to really see the evolution of the series, the characters, and writer and get a lot of bang for your buck in the newest books.
Garrison’s writing in The Janson Option is powerful and compelling. Though ocean-based tales are clearly the former-sailor-turned-author’s security blanket, he’s showing more and more proficiency in non-maritime locations, with some of the best action writing in this book occurring on the land. This makes me hope that his next Janson book (or original series, if that comes up) will completely avoid the ocean all-together, so people won’t pigeon hole him as just a “sea-brined” tale teller!
In short, the Janson Option is highly recommended.