Following the Empire Strikes Back-sized cliffhanger that ended Poisonfeather, Matthew FitzSimmons’ messed-up ex-Marine hacker Gibson Vaughn returns after an eighteen-month absence and is looking for revenge. And although Gibson wants a heaping served ice cold, his thought processes are similarly frozen. His interactions with PTSD-originated ghosts clearly show he is not on the top of his game as he was in the debut The Short Drop. FitzSimmons does a fantastic job at getting into Vaughn’s complicated head and makes him a sympathetic voice as the reader commiserates with his on-going stress. For all that internal conflict, however, the first act narrative suffers.
If Cold Harbor was season 3 of the Gibson Vaughn drama on FX (and not a bad idea actually, you paying attention Mr. Landgraf?), the network would be hard pressed to ramp up new viewers without the benefit of binge-watching. The novel has a similar circumstance where the familiar reader must fight to play catch up, yet rewards loyal readers to the very end. For someone new coming in who just happens to pick up a copy at the neighborhood Barnes & Noble? Fuhgeddaboudit. FitzSimmons works in backstory and allows a catch-up with the on-going mythos, but initially the reader can be just as confused as the story’s protagonist.
FitzSimmons weaves together action with a hearty bit of internal self-loathing and angst. Gibson’s conversations with his ghosts are not merely metaphorical, but a plot device that, thankfully, does not overstay its welcome, and, contrary to the standard cliché, borders on the detrimental.
Plot-wise, FitzSimmons picks up on the pseudo-cliffhanger from The Short Drop and has Gibson go after the missing George Abe, who was completely MIA during Poisonfeather, while reuniting with cast members from both previous books, strengthening this creator universe. Another strength that gets focus is Vaughn’s humanity and his tendency to doubt his own fallibility. A hacker by trade, Gibson is by no means the super-genius Cisco Ramon from The Flash, nor do his skills present the ultimate deus ex machina in planned contrivances. He’s good with code, not so much with relationships, and striving to better at both.
Cold Harbor, named for the Blackwater-ish PMC ne’er-do-well, brings a fitting conclusion to the Gibson Vaughn trilogy. FitzSimmons has created a likable character with an enjoyable series. Vaughn is cocky, but knows his limits, more introverted than a one-line joker, and deserves a return engagement. Get working, Matt.
Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for the advance proof, for not only Cold Harbor, but introducing me previously to The Short Drop and Poisonfeather. I have certainly enjoyed the ride.