Total Immunity by Robert Ward

6/10 Total Immunity is ideal if you're looking for entertainment whilst not stretching your imagination.

Smart, tough Los Angeles FBI agents Jack Harper and Oscar Hidalgo meet their match in a diamond smuggler, Steinbach, who seems to have almost superhuman powers. Arrested during a clever sting operation, Steinbach tells the team of agents he will kill them, and sure enough, one by one, they start to die. Worse, Jack can’t begin to pin it on Steinbach, who is, after all, in prison. Soon, however, Steinbach makes a deal with Homeland Security and is freed with total immunity. Jack is pretty sure that he and Oscar could be next. But, as it turns out, Steinbach is not the only menace. Two of the agents who were killed turn out to be dirty. Jack and Oscar tour the seamy side of L.A. in hopes of finding clues, but they get way more than they bargained for.

This is Ward’s ninth novel, and introduces the somewhat stereotypical F.B.I. protagonist Jack Harper, haunted by events in his past, all too ready to use his fists and surrounded by greed and conspiracy. We begin with Harper bringing down a diamond smuggler, who in turn swears to kill them all, and the story quickly descends into car chases, shootouts and untimely deaths. A recipe you would expect to result in a fast-paced, entertaining novel.

Unfortunately, I finished the novel feeling disappointed. The story line with its many twists and turns is just not enough to counteract the poor writing style, with numerous scenes being ruined with melodrama and cliché, the dialogue suffering the most. Ward’s background writing for Miami Vice and similar cop shows has taken an obvious toll on his writing – full to the brim with ‘shivers down the spine’ and bizarre descriptions such as “his lizard heart fluttered like a butterfly’s wings inside his massive chest” making for unpleasant reading. A lot of the mistakes can be contributed to poor editing, but even with a rough editorial shakedown Total Immunity would still be a struggle to read if you are looking for any literary merit. If however, you want a clever if somewhat overcomplicated plot without much emphasis on concise writing style then Ward’s novel is a great book to pick up, entertaining and in some places surprising. Furthermore Harper’s supporting cast of fellow agents, family and friends add another layer to the book that takes it a step above simply being an action book, giving the central characters slightly more depth than might be first perceived.

So whilst Total Immunity won’t be winning any Booker Prizes, if you’re looking for something to entertain whilst not particularly stretching your imagination, Robert Ward is probably the author for you.

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