I will be honest up front that it is impossible for me to be totally unbiased in this review. I got to know the author, Jack Stewart, a bit before his first book, Unknown Rider, was published, and that is documented in the review linked to the just-mentioned title. That said, I respect Jack enough as a writer to not ask for hints and tidbits in our conversations, and he respects me as reader in only offering teasing morsels to whet the reading appetite. We talk more about the business/working side of writing than the content. Which is refreshing, as it allows me to go in with a clean palate.
Outlaw opens about a year after the events of Unknown Rider. Navy fighter pilot Colt Bancroft is back in the cockpit, albeit in a FA-18E Super Hornet stationed aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, instead of the F-35 we first met him in. NCIS Special Agent Emmy “Punky” King is still looking for the traitor within the Navy’s ranks who eluded her in the first book, and her search turns up more questions regarding the Chinese Ministry of State Security’s network of spies on the American West Coast. Her investigation puts her on the scent of a new agent working in southern California, one possibly tied to events in Shanghai that landed a CIA officer in the hands of the Chinese intelligence service.
As Punky realizes the spy she’s after could trigger a synthetic bioweapon breakout, Colt is flying air support for the rescue mission underway to get the CIA’s case officer back. Both come to the realization that if they fail, the implications wouldn’t stop at geopolitical fallout, but the opening of a new world war.
Outlaw differs from its predecessor in that Colt and Punky never share the printed page. They think about the other on occasion, but their storylines do not directly intertwine like in Unknown Rider. Nevertheless, each is responsible for massively important parts of the plot, as we are introduced to many fresh faces, as well as one or two others from the first book.
Another key difference is the scope. Unknown Rider dealt with a specific instance that brought the two characters together, whereas in Outlaw, things play out on a much larger scale. To his credit, Jack handles this with deft hands and a tight plot.
As stated before, Jack’s writing heroes are Tom Clancy and Mark Greaney, the inventor, and one of the current kings, respectively, of the technothriller genre. As a long-time fan of both of those, it gives me great pleasure to say that Jack may have reached the peak of publication and planted his flag with Unknown Rider, but in Outlaw he begins the establishment of his own empire as a technothriller master. This absolutely reads like a Clancy novel of old, and it’s an anxiety-filled roller-coaster of a ride in all the best of ways. There are even more subplots and moving parts in this book, and if you thought Jack took you inside the mind of a fighter pilot for a glimpse of life in the cockpit before, brother, the afterburners really kick to life in this one.
Let’s just say there may have been a moment during my reading when I texted Jack to curse him out. And I meant it in the most respectful way possible. It’s. Just. That. Good.
If you love reading thrillers, stop reading whatever else has your attention at the moment and dive in to Outlaw. You won’t regret it.
5/5 phins, a stunning and incredible sequel