Fearless: A Novel
“Fearless is a reading experience that should require safety belts and mouth guards.”
Ben Koenig has been off the grid for six years. The former head of the elite Special Operations Group of the U.S. Marshals Service, he killed the son of a prominent Russian mobster during an operation and now has a $5 million bounty on his head.
When his erstwhile director, Mitch Burridge, suddenly throws out the dragnet to find him, Koenig allows himself to be captured in order to see what’s going on. Apparently the director’s daughter has been kidnapped, and Koenig’s the man he wants on the job.
Why him? Because Koenig suffers from a rare condition known as Urbach-Wiethe Syndrome, which has completely desensitized him to dangerous situations. In other words—he’s fearless.
M.W. Craven is an English author known for his Washington Poe and Detective Inspector Avison Fluke crime novel series. He won a Gold Dagger Award for The Puppet Show (2018) and an Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for Dead Ground (2021).
With Fearless he shifts his setting to the United States and, given the uniqueness of his protagonist’s condition, throws himself full tilt into thriller mode. The result is a reading experience that should require safety belts and mouth guards.
He begins the novel with a conscious tip of the hat to Lee Child, the godfather of the American loner-oriented thriller.
Like Jack Reacher, Koenig has been wandering America incognito, avoiding electronic detection, and maintaining as low a profile as possible. But Craven’s introductory hommage doesn’t end there.
Like Reacher, Koenig indulges in long-winded analyses of violent situations before taking on an enemy. Remaining undetected while on the move? “You need more than just a fold-up toothbrush” to pull it off. (A word of caution: don’t mess with Reacher’s toothbrush.) And when Burridge finally catches up with him, he says, “You didn’t have to go all Jack Reacher on us.”
As Craven moves forward, however, he creates enough distance between the two characters that Koenig eventually finds his own ground. He’s fallible, rather self-conscious, and somewhat less inclined than Reacher to hop into the sack with the lead female character in the story.
In fact, Koenig has a definite antipathy going on with Jen Draper, who has apparently been sent by Burridge to help him out. The palpable dislike between them creates an interesting dynamic that keeps us guessing as the search for Martha Burridge rolls on.
While a few Britishisms have leaked into the prose (what the heck is twee?), Koenig writes well and keeps the story on track. His great strength lies in his ability to maintain a very high pace as the plot unfolds. He understands that short chapters keep the pages turning while generating suspense like a solar-powered turbine, and he uses them fearlessly.
If there’s a problem with the novel, it lies with the solution to the kidnapping situation. Koenig’s penetration of a suspicious facility comes across as an excuse to discuss energy generation alternatives; the ultimate purpose behind Martha Burridge’s kidnapping feels contrived and a little difficult to believe; and the fact that the whole thing veers off in a different, rather conventional direction at the climax seems a little clichéd and disappointing.
Nevertheless, Fearless is a good start on a new thriller series with potential. While enjoying the inside joke when matching up the title of the novel with the author’s surname, we can see that Koenig’s Urbach-Wiethe is a unique superpower which, if handled well, can create interest in future installments of the series.
Fearless provides great summer reading at the beach or the cottage, a nice piece of entertainment for those of us who enjoy a lazy day, a cold glass of lemonade, and a good book.