Citizen Warrior Series
J. Thomas Rompel’s Citizen Warrior series is an interesting example of how the “lowbrow cheap thriller” series has evolved and in some ways gone full circle, as well as an example of how external political changes can affect writing. It’s also something that goes from “kinda OK” to “kinda not OK”.
The first book, The 4th Branch can be viewed as just another throwaway cheap thriller. The plot, aka “STOP THE TERRORISTS AND THEIR DRUG CARTEL ALLIES”, is not distinct even by cheap thriller standards. The characters are barely there, with the most development given to the cliche stereotypical puppy kicking antagonists. The right-wing politics are axe-grinding and constantly reinforced.
As an action novel (when it finally gets going), it’s merely decent. Better than a flop or even “51% novel”, but not at the level of one of the all-time greats. But what it is a good example of is a genre that’s going full circle. It’s a return to the “vigilante” style of cheap thriller.
The prevailing style (there were obviously exceptions) of cheap thriller protagonist in the 1970s was the “vigilante”, following in the wake of Mack Bolan. In the 1980s, as evidenced by Bolan himself, it shifted to the “secret agent” paradigm. This returns to outside-the-law vigilantism. For someone like me who overanalyzes cheap thrillers, I thought it was interesting.
The second book, One Down, is only interesting in how changed political circumstances can change some of the tone of a novel. Let’s just say that the first was published in 2016 and the second was published in 2017. Other than that, it kind of fails.
The politicization gets tiresome and makes the main characters look like whining complainers, not determined heroes. Most of the heroes and villains are the same, the new ones aren’t interesting, and the stakes are arguably lower than in the first book. The action isn’t any better, and one scene where the heroes far too easily take on foes that include machine gun-carrying technicals felt a bit too far.
That is also interesting in that it dips a little bit into the “secret agent” type of thriller, unlike the clear “vigilante” style of the first book. This study is more interesting than anything actually within the pages of One Down.