In this ninth title of Jonathan Maberry’s series, Joe Ledger and his cohorts in the Department of Military Science (DSM) are once again called upon to battle a villain threatening the world with technology not too far from reality – in this case the latest creations in robotics. But DOGS OF WAR suffers from a meandering plot structure and a sluggish pace – characteristics never experienced in any of the previous Ledger novels.
No sooner does Joe Ledger return from a mission in Prague than he receives a call from his brother Sean, a homicide detective in Baltimore. A local teenage prostitute is found dead and the autopsy reveals very strange results – strange enough for Sean reach out to his brother, who Sean knows works for a clandestine government organization that deals with these kinds of things.
Ledger discovers that the dead prostitute’s brain was full of nanobots that released an intense strain of a familiar disease; that caused the girl to change into an enraged, feral killing machine. Then Ledger learns of similar outbreaks occurring around the country, sometimes causing massive and riotous killings before calm is restored.
What Ledger and the DMS don’t know is that the nanobot-controlled disease is one fragment of a plot developed by a young genius with ties to villainous groups the DMS thought were destroyed. The plot will soon unleash the latest version of robot canines that will carry out the worldwide destruction of millions of lives.
As usual, Maberry heads each chapter with the time and location of the events detailed, with Ledger’s first-person narration featured in the present and back-story events interspersed as third-person perspective “Interludes.” But it takes an inordinately long time to present the Interlude upbringing of the major antagonist, and it isn’t until a few chapters past the middle of the nearly 550 pages that Ledger – and thus the reader – truly understands who and what is threatening the world.
Many of the present-day chapters involve Ledger and his brother Sean. While these many scenes are never less than engagingly written – with Ledger recalling his upbringing with his brother and their parents – they nonetheless take way too long and detract from what is eventually revealed as the novel’s main conflict.
Not surprisingly, when all the back-story details are finally revealed, the novel kicks into high gear and the pacing noticeably increases. At this point, about the last quarter of the novel, Ledger finally opens a DMS file on the case and the story resumes all the forward-facing elements we’ve come to expect from the earlier Ledger/DSM adventures.
What keeps us turning pages up to this point is the masterful quality of Maberry’s prose. He describes each character with an economic clarity; while the events are presented with phrases that border on the poetic but effectively portray the action. And Maberry’s ear for dialogue is as accurate and believable as ever.
Because of its frequent and plentiful references to characters and events in earlier novels, DOGS OF WAR is recommended only to the already devoted followers of the Joe Ledger series – with the above-mentioned caveats. Newcomers are urged to seek out the earlier novels – especially the series debut in the stunning PATIENT ZERO.
The Ledger series, with its blending of science fiction and action/adventure crime stories – often enhanced with contemporary political overtones — holds a unique place in genre fiction. So let’s hope Maberry has more Ledger/DMS stories formulating in his amazing imagination. Perhaps next time it won’t take so long for Ledger to discover the source of his challenge. —Alan Cranis