Book Review: “Agent Zero” by Jack Mars

I heard about this book via Chuck Litka’s blog, I’ve been reading thrillers lately and it was free on Kindle, so I figured I would check it out.

I have to say, I liked the beginning: instead of the standard “starting with a bang,” as authors are advised, it opens in the most mundane way possible: with the protagonist, Prof. Reid Lawson, giving a lecture on history to a class of sleepy students.

It proceeds calmly enough, with Prof. Lawson then heading home to his two daughters for game night. Only after that does the plot kick into gear, when the professor is kidnapped by a couple of thugs, demanding to know who he is.

I like this style. I appreciate getting to know characters, seeing them at ease, before we dive right into the action. So, credit to the author for starting off this way.

This is a thriller, though, so there’s plenty of action. It soon becomes clear that Lawson has been implanted with an experimental memory-altering chip. Once it is removed, memories of his past as an uber-lethal CIA field operative begin to come back to him, along with glimpses and hints of a massive conspiracy he had been on the brink of unraveling before his mind was wiped.

This sets up a globe-trotting and violent adventure, as Lawson is forced to try to uncover his own identity as well as the massive terror ring he’d been about to foil.

None of this is super-original, and I can think of a number of instances where all the tropes in this book have been used before.  But, you know what? It didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story. Like George Lucas once said, “They’re clichés because they work!”

The basic concept that Lawson, despite seemingly being a mild-mannered college professor, is actually a trained professional killer, reminded me of something Kingsley Amis said in the James Bond Dossier I reviewed the other week. He said that part of the appeal of Bond was the idea that he looked like an everyman; that beneath the unremarkable features of any average accountant or shop clerk there lurks a Heinleinian “Competent Man.”

Granted, the book isn’t perfect. I know it’s said to add realism, but I really don’t think it’s plausible that anyone, even a trained special operative, will be able to instantly tell the exact model of weapon every single one of his enemies is wielding at a glance. Obviously, a working knowledge of weapons is a requirement for the job, but this seemed a little extreme.

Reid took up the AK. How many rounds were fired? Five? Six. It was a thirty two-round magazine. If the clip was full, he still had twenty-six rounds.


Wait just a damn minute.

I’m sorry to do this to you. I really am. If this book weren’t so intent on giving us the details about what weapons everyone is carrying at all times, I would probably just let it go. But seriously, if you’re going to write about weapons with great specificity, watch this video first.

Now, why am I so hung up on this, you ask? Well, the fact is that I used to use the terms interchangeably too, until one day someone explained the difference to me, and pointed out that ten seconds of searching the internet would have saved me from such a sloppy error.

“But ‘magazine’ is such a mouthful,” you object. “No one is gonna say, ‘where’s my magazine’ in the heat of battle!”

True enough. In that case, use the abbreviation “mag.”

IRL, it probably will never matter for most people. But, if you’re going to write a thriller that leans heavily on talking about the details of weapons, you should probably go ahead and look up the relevant terminology.

Incidentally, this provides me a great chance to rebut another of Amis’s points about description. Once you start down the path of describing everything in great detail, you are under more and more pressure to get things right. And if you get something wrong, then irritating pedants like me will start whining about it in our reviews.

Whereas, if you leave things vague, there’s more leeway for things like this. You could just say, “he put a clip in the rifle.” Some rifles do use clips. Admittedly not many, and especially not many made in the last 50 years or so. But still.

I’m not actually saying that everything can be left vague. But when you describe something in detail, make sure you know what you’re talking about, or you will defeat your purpose.

Still, these petty complaints aside, this is an enjoyable thriller. I recommend it, clips and all.


  1. I read lots of thrillers, Tom Clancy, Joseph Badal, Mark Dawson and others, they all wax eloquent on the make model and size of ammunition. I kind of like Mickey Spillane that just said it was a .38 or .45 automatic. Get on with the story here. Same with long descriptions of food at a dinner, enough ranting for now.

    1. I’m reading a Tom Clancy book now, and yes, he always, always makes sure to tell us all about the weapons, vehicles, armor, etc.

  2. I absolutely agree with you on description. I don’t care if it’s fiction, certain things in description have to be … right. Like the thriller I read that ended with the heroine swimming through seaweed in a mountain lake. There were other problems with that book that also strained the reality of the description, but that last piece, right at the end of the book, turned me away from any books by that author in the future. And he has a lot of books.

  3. Happy to hear that it wasn’t a waste of time. I think it will be a while before I get back to thrillers. As for getting things right, it’s why I invent everything about my stories.

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