Finding a good anti-hero who pretty much does all the right things can be a little grating but it depends on how right he is for the job. In “American Blood” [Ben Sanders/Minotaur/352pgs], the person at the crux of this idea is Marshall, a WITSEC stalwart who was former undercover in NYPD on payroll with organized crime. This structure of course is a prevalent backstory for more of a “Fargo”/”No Country For Old Men” set up, with this one specifically in the American Southwest, closer to Arizona. Actually in many ways “Salton Sea” with Val Kilmer comes to mind because of the comparative darkness of that story and the parallel with the lead character. The idea with people in these situations is that they have nothing to lose and are sometimes doing all the wrong things for the right reasons. Marshall starts off the book saving a woman he doesn’t know who turns out to be a lady cop simply because it was simply the right thing to do. Then he continues on a longer tangent to find a girl that was lost simply because he whole situation didn’t sound right. As a plot set up, this seems like a flimsy three act structure but that kind of mythic undercurrent has often served as a great basis for a series. The characters in play here (a couple ex-militaries including a real piece of work (Leon) as well as some of his conniving and not all together loyal scumbags) operate in a slightly unbalanced netherworld of motivations that include the destroying of evidence, even if it is the bodies of their own friends. These kind of actions as well as the psychological motivations of some of the killers, specifically one called The Dallas Man and ultimately the great reveal of a character called The Patriarch (whose existence Is alluded to and played within the plot) give the book it’s solid through-line. It is this part of the story that needs to be kept in balance. Everything involving Marshall leads us to that story turn and that is why it works. In a certain way, despite any of the cool noir set pieces, it becomes about the balance of family and tragedy and blood while still having an Elmore Leonard spin to it with inherently a bit more reality to the equation. Bradley Cooper apparently bought the rights and Marshall is an interesting role possibly for him. Like the recent “Burnt” or even “American Sniper”, it requires him to be slightly unlikable but also display a rogue chivalry which could be effective with the right director and tone. The story is there and the reveal is effective as long as the underlying world doesn’t get too bogged down in mechanics. This is a yarn that works if it is taken at face value for its strengths.
By Tim Wassberg