The Terminal List & True Believer by Jack Carr
I walk every morning and began listening to audio books in order to force myself to walk longer. It worked! I walk 2-3 miles every morning and if the book is REALLY good (and it’s not too hot) I can go even longer. Now, I still LOVE my print books, that won’t change, but I like alternating between print and audio, and it’s REALLY hard to walk and read a book (at least for me!)
I’m not generally a fan of political or military thrillers. Sure, I’ve read Brad Thor (one book) and Vince Flynn (one book) and Tom Clancy (several books) because I think it’s important for authors to read broadly and out of their comfort zone. I also think it’s important for writers to read authors who consistently hit the New York Times bestseller list. You don’t have to like the book to understand why it sells or why people like the author.
I bought THE TERMINAL LIST for one reason only: Chris Pratt. I follow Pratt on Instagram because he’s one of my favorite actors (I feel like such a fan girl) and he’d posted photos and short videos from his filming of this Amazon Original series. I really enjoyed the Amazon series JACK RYAN, so I put this series on my list of things to watch. Then I learned that it was based on a book by Jack Carr, so I looked him up. Military thriller … hmm, not really my thing. But Chris Pratt …
I like reading “the book” before I see a movie or show that it’s based on. So I picked up THE TERMINAL LIST on Chirp (my favorite place to buy discounted audiobooks) and started listening.
First — an audio book is really only as good as the narrator, and Ray Porter is AMAZING. While I don’t love his female voices, he certainly isn’t the worst. And overall, his voice is amazing in the Mike Rowe I-would-listen-to-anything-he-narrates kind of way, so I can overcome this weakness. (NOTE: Few male authors can handle female characters well — with some exceptions, most notably Scott Brick who narrates Gregg Hurwitz’s ORPHAN-X series.)
THE TERMINAL LIST was so, so, so good. I loved it. Getting out of my comfort zone was a good thing here, because Jack Carr now has a life-long fan and on my auto-buy (or, rather, auto-listen) list.
You can go to Amazon here to read the cover copy, etc. So I’m not going to re-hash the plot. (Clearly I’m not the only one who likes this book — it has over 15,000 reviews with an average 4.7 star rating.)
Why did I like it? I can’t point to any one thing — other than I literally could not stop listening. I sped it up to 1.2X on my app because I really, really wanted to know what would happen next.
Fair warning: the story is violent with a high body count. This doesn’t bother me if it fits the story, and the high body count fit the story. You lose people you love and you lose people you hate. It’s been called a “revenge thriller” and I, personally, don’t think that label does the story justice. Yes, it’s about revenge — but it’s more than that. It’s about what happens to a man who has literally lost everything, the choices he makes and the consequences he faces.
I particularly liked the authenticity. Jack Carr is a great storyteller who is writing a subject he knows well. It’s fiction, but all good fiction has nuggets of truth. Finding those truth nuggets in the “lies” of fiction was a surprising joy. I kept wanting to reach out to Jack and ask what he thought of this or that in the geo-political landscape. But of course I didn’t — I don’t know him and he’d probably think I was a nutty Kathy Bates fan-girl. LOL.
I expected to be forced to suspend disbelief often, but found myself seeing how a story like this COULD unfold. Yes, there were a few over-the-top moments (all great thrillers have them — I love Orphan-X, but I am very willing to suspend disbelief because they are just great stories.) Which leads me to book two in the James Reece series: TRUE BELIEVER.
As an aside, because the books are violent and what I would label a “high-octane” thriller, I couldn’t listen to book two immediately after the first. But three books later I put it on, and realized THE TERMINAL LIST was not a fluke. It wasn’t a one-hit wonder who did well because Chris Pratt put his name to the television project. Jack Carr is the real deal, a talented story-teller whose second book is better than the first.
TRUE BELIEVER starts immediately after the events of THE TERMINAL LIST. I don’t want to give the story away, (but knowing that Reece survived isn’t really a spoiler — there are currently five books in the series!) but I’ll admit listening to the beginning I wondered how Carr was going to redeem our grieving hero. I mean, Reece enacted a LOT of violence on people who deserved it, and I needed to buy HOW he was going to get away with it.
TRUE BELIEVER is a huge book. I don’t say that because of the length (though it is 64 pages longer than the first, per Amazon.) It’s meaty. There is A LOT going on and a lot of story to digest. And at times, even though each chapter was labeled, I got a bit lost when I wasn’t in Reece’s POV. But I stuck with it because the story was compelling in more than one way.
First, the story takes place over nearly a year, but it’s handled exceptionally well and includes well-done flashbacks and backstories that lead to the final confrontation. Reece spends time in Mozambique with his best friend’s family and his flashbacks to his college days give us more insight into Reece as a character as well as some interesting history about the area and people. I generally don’t like history lessons in my fiction, but Carr does it exceptionally well — and I found myself drawn into this part of the story in a way that I didn’t expect. It’s here in the wilds that Reece can heal from the events of book one, and I found that this tactic by the author lent more authenticity to Reece’s character as well as my ability to forgive some of the over-the-top violence. He is still a wanted man, but he’s also a hero. And I loved that complexity.
Parallel to Reece’s healing period in Mozambique, we are privy to several terrorist attacks throughout the world and we know a bit about the man behind it — a Russian nationalist who wants to bring Russia back to its glory days and manipulates global markets through very specific and well-planned acts of terror. Again, I’m not a huge fan of terrorist-driven stories … but this wasn’t a terrorist-driven plot. This was about manipulation, betrayal, honor, truth and lies, it was MORE than what it seemed. And while I’m really good at keeping complex stories straight in my head, this took a lot of work on my end because there were a lot of moving parts. And when I speak of authenticity, this book had it in spades. Carr, because of his security clearance as a former Navy commander, had to get his book approved by the Department of Defense. Instead of editing out what they redacted, he LITERALLY redacted the sentences or paragraphs in the book. So a black ops site near Turkey? Location and name REDACTED. Blacked out in the book and the narrator simply says “redacted.” I loved it.
But in the end? I was wholly, completely satisfied with the story and how Carr wrapped up all the seemingly disparate storylines into one amazing finale. Just … WOW. That’s really the only word for it. And considering what is now going on in current events in Russia and the Ukraine, this book is particularly prescient.
There were a few things I didn’t love and found my mind drifting away from the narration. While I enjoy authentic details about guns and military planning, I don’t like too much — people who do enjoy these details will particularly love this story, but if you don’t, just skim those paragraphs. Because the STORY is what matters and this story is honestly one of the best I’ve read in a long, long time. Complex, painful in parts, authentic, emotional, and genuinely thrilling. TRUE BELIEVER is better than THE TERMINAL LIST, and I think both books are fantastic.
These stories will not be for everyone, I recognize. But for me? They are what I needed. After a couple book reprieve to listen to lighter stories — J.D. Robb, C.J. Box, and the next Orphan X book — I’ll be listening to SAVAGE SON, book three in the James Reece series. I should be all caught up before book six comes out.
Have you read Jack Carr? What did you think? Do you like audio books or do you prefer reading digitally or in print?