Greeting friends! Today, we’ll be sitting back to take a look at the most recent offering from Grail Quest Books, Greater Good by Nathan P. Butler. You may remember Mr. Butler from my reviews of his contributions to the Warsseries of books, also published by Grail Quest. In those books, Butler impressed with his ability to develop meaningful characters with an action packed story that would have seemed like little more that a car chase in the hands of a lesser writer. In Greater Good, Butler tries his hand at a story that begins more as a thriller/mystery than a sci-fi/action piece. This format allows for more introspection on the part of the characters and development of the concepts essential to the story than the short novellas of the Wars series. So, does he succeed?
Mostly yes. Butler does a good job of drawing the reader in – dropping us into the middle of a chase, a chase in which the person fleeing has no idea why someone is trying to kill him. The reader is just as clueless, until just before delivering the killing blow, the victim protests that he hasn’t done anything, to which the assassin responds, “Yet.”
From here, the pace slows as we meet the protagonist, one Cray Ellis. However, it isn’t the normal meeting, as Ellis is in a sense meeting himself as well. This is where we are introduced to one of the more interesting aspects of the book, and one of the most innovative methods of time travel since Doc Brown hit his head on a toilet. Cray is actually an Enforcer, a police officer from the future who has traveled back in time; but doing it not physically, but psychically through a mechanism that I won’t take time to describe here. In any case once settled into his new body, Ellis sets about tracking down the assassin that we met earlier.
Here the story founders a bit. Actually, I should say that the story doesn’t really suffer. The structure and over all pacing as Cray and an FBI agent named Carla VanderVall he teams with hunt down the antagonist is just fine. The problem is actually in that the author describes everything in terms of metaphor. I’m certainly not opposed to metaphor and generally am a fan of it, but it gets overused to the point that it bogs down the first third to half of the book. However, readers will be rewarded by continuing as the action begins to pick up, allowing Butler to return to his strength, describing his characters and their setting through their actions.
Cray’s heroism is demonstrated many times, not just in his determination to save the intended victims but also in the way he saves others who are unconnected with the mission, actions that even seem to hinder that mission. The antagonist’s villainy is amply demonstrated as well through the callousness with which he treats those around him and particularly in the way in which he “spares” one of his targets. VanderVall is the only other significant character and Butler does a good job of describing a young and committed agent while not making her a typical cold as ice type who would be at home in any standard crime procedural or reducing her to an ornamental love interest.
As we move through the story we learn, mostly through Ellis’ flashbacks that the confrontation between him and the assassin is not merely physical but philosophical and political. This confrontation leads to questions of the price of liberty and security, when does one decide to pick up arms, how far can one legitimately go to right institutionalized injustice?
These confrontations build to a simultaneous climax that any superhero fan will be sure to appreciate. The philosophical aspect does come off a little rushed though, which would have been helped if we had seen Cray wrestle more with the realities of the oppressive society from which he came. In fact, when the antagonist reveals the depths and commonality of that oppression, one can’t help but think that we should see more conflict in Cray from the beginning.
To conclude though, Greater Good is a flawed but enjoyable read. In addition to a solid story and characters, Butler breaks genuinely new ground with his method of time travel and brings up many important questions that have relevance to many of today’s most controversial issues. You can find it on Amazon in both print and ebook versions.