Shadow of the Templar: The Morning Star by M. Chandler
Simon Drake is an up-and-coming young FBI hotshot, an agent with a personal track record so outstanding that it borders on unbelievable. Not yet thirty, he’s already the leader of his own special ops team; a ragtag bunch of talented but nigh-uncontrollable lunatics, it’s true, but under Simon’s inspired leadership they’re a force to be reckoned with, a team with an unparalleled success rate, a team with an almost unblemished record–until now.
Jeremy Archer is the brilliant and unpredictable scion of a long line of international art thieves, simultaneously a phenomenally wealthy English socialite and one of the most infamous criminals in the world. At twenty-seven years old he’s already wanted on nearly every continent for thefts totalling more than ninety-one million dollars, and yet no one has ever come close to catching him–until now.
May the best man win.
The Morning Star is the first in a series of four books staring the same characters. The above blurb is somewhat vague and deals more with the series as a whole than any individual book’s plot. For this first offering, the introduction to the characters and fast paced action plot makes this book an absolute delight. The witty dialogue and laugh out loud antics have the story flying by way too fast and I’m surprised this is offered as a free read or pay for self published PDF. The characters are fabulous and although none have much depth, their entertainment factor is so high it won’t matter. The story is high on the improbability ranking and there are some technical problems, but really none of these mistakes matter. For those readers who love a quirky, delightful spy-ish novel, you’ll clamor for more once you’ve finish this introduction.
The story opens with Simon’s FBI team handling a high profile, wealthy cocktail party. The team is charged with keeping an eight million dollar diamond – owned by socialites the Mornings – safe from a known thief, Jeremy Archer. When said thief shows up but manages to snag the diamond out from under Simon’s talented crew, Simon is enraged. Yet the thief offers a deal, he’ll return the diamond for money. Unfortunately, not everything is as easy as that and Simon, Archer, and the entire team must work together to stop a terrorist plot.
Well as you may have guessed from the summary, the plot itself is classic spy movie implausible. To get the qualms out of the way first, Simon’s high tech FBI team doesn’t act like an FBI group at all and is better suited to being placed as a highly secret government agency. The FBI portion is completely unrealistic, yet putting that aside, it shouldn’t bother readers so much once you’ve accepted this and moved on. It’s as outrageous as the plot but the journey is well worth indulging. The action is incredibly fast paced, a vague homage to Bond/007 movies, and thoroughly delightful. From the opening scene to the last, the pace never lags and never lets up, which is a considerable feat considering the impressive dialogue, characters, and plot all packed within a mere 135 pages.
The characters are many and tend to blend together unfortunately. Simon’s team is called Team Templar after Simon’s code name, Templar. His team consists of 5 people whose names and codenames mix together and offer little in the way of individualizing their personalities. These five members – Rich (Specs Two), Nate (Specs), Mike (Honda), Johnny (Texas), Sandra (Springheal) – are all wonderful, adding great depth and texture to the story. As the author clearly adores these characters, I did as well but I wish there had been more depth and individuality to the various members so it would be easier to tell them apart. It would be nice to like each character versus just the group dynamic.
The group dynamic however is witty, hilarious, and often the backbone of many of the great scenes. Although Simon is a strong classic character and his chemistry with the polished, urbane thief Archer is fabulous, the strength is really in the overall dynamic of the many characters and their interaction together. This fun loving, intelligent and often immature group will keep readers interested and engaged from the start. Here are a few examples of the dialogue between the team members:
“And there you are,” Nate said in Simon’s ear. “We’ve got you on camera ten. Adjust your bowtie if you can hear me.” Simon touched his fingers to his tie. “Good. Great. Springheel, look to your left.” Sandra glanced left and smiled.
“Great. Looks like you’re both still in touch.”
“Bring me back some of those little shrimp things,” Rich added.
“There are shrimp things?” Mike said, plaintively. “I’m down here staring at wallpaper and missing shrimp things?”
“Sure are,” Rich said as Simon and Sandra headed into the room. “Looks like there are cheese things, too. Oh, and curly vegetable things. At least, I think those are vegetables.”
“Oh, and your favorite, Honda: booze things!” Nate said.
“Booze things?!” Mike’s voice went from ‘plaintive’ to ‘incredulous’. “Man, I wanna switch jobs with someone. Hey, Springheel, you come down here and guard the door and I’ll be Templar’s date for the evening."
“Gack . . . unwanted . . . mental image . . . killing brain cells . . . ” Nate croaked.
Rich snorted. “You’d look ridiculous in that gold dress, Honda.” Nate moaned in Simon’s ear in what sounded like real pain.
“Shut up, Specs Two,” Mike said affably. “You shrimp thing, you.”
“You speak Klingon,” Rich pointed out.
“Not any more!” Nate flushed a little. “I mean, come on, that was in college, it was a long time ago . . . ”
Rich snorted. “Verengan Ha’DIbaH!”
“Mu’qaD!” Nate automatically snapped, then yelped and pointed a shaking finger at Rich. “Oh, you jerk, and you were making fun of me for speaking Klingon!”
“I am seriously becoming geekier just by sitting here,” Mike informed Sandra.
“I think my dick is shrinking.”
“Mine too,” Sandra said.
“Mine’s good,” Johnny said, patting it affectionately.
This kind of banter is repeated often throughout the story but never overwhelming or annoying. The father of it all is rough talking, hard hitting Simon who corals everyone and takes no prisoners. His sexuality is a bit questionable as Sandra is his ex-girlfriend and there is little inclination that Simon is gay except an encounter with Archer late in the story. So I can’t wait to find out if Simon is gay, bi-sexual, straight, or gay for thief? Archer’s polished, oh so British personality has a wealth of possibilities and since no background information is offered towards any of the characters or their personalities, I can only assume more will come in future stories. Thus while the characters aren’t fully three dimensional, their entertainment factor is high enough to excuse this point.
As a first book in a series, Morning Star completely delivers. Entertaining, dynamic, engaging, interesting, and composed of fascinating characters all wrapped up in a plot that may be outrageous yet tries hard to stay within reality as much as possible. The Bond feel only enhances the story and the writing is rather slick. For a self published story, the editing is much higher than a lot of recent books I’ve paid, even with the few errors I found, so I’d suggest buying the PDF version and supporting a great new voice. There is no explicit erotica but that doesn’t diminish the latent sensuality between Archer and Simon. Check this out, you won’t be disappointed.
Get it HERE!