In Review: The Mutant Files: Redzone

Action and mystery, wrapped in a broken, mutated near future.

The Mutant Files: Redzone by William C. Dietz

Published by Titan Books on July 28, 2015. Paperback of 272 pages at £7.99. 

The cover: Using her car for cover, Cassandra Lee has a pistol in each hand, ready to use to protect herself and the citizens around her. I love this cover by Gene Mollica. It makes Lee look tough, holding the guns so calmly as debris goes flying by. There’s just enough of a futuristic tinge to this with the design of her car, while the city behind her is just damaged enough to show that society hasn’t recovered from some terrible calamity. As with the previous novel’s cover, Cassandra bears more than a passing resemblance to actress Halle Berry, but that’s a big plus. His cover would be absolutely at home in promoting a movie. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “In the nation of Pacifica, Los Angeles detective Cassandra Lee is in charge of investigating a disturbing case, tracking a cop killer dubbed the Bonebreaker. But strange new murders have occurred, falling outside the normal pattern and leaving Lee and her team wondering if the serial killer is no longer acting alone. To make matters worse, Lee’s attention is diverted after she receives a letter from her long-last mother. Now she must venture into the red zone, a lawless land where the biggest danger may be her own family.” I read the first book and had issue with this antagonist’s appearance, but seeing as how he appears the focus of this book, I’m willing to give Dietz a second shot based on his previous novels that I’ve read and enjoyed. Overall grade: B

The characters: The protagonist of this book, and series, is Cassandra Lee. She gets the job done, usually with a high body count. She doesn’t go looking for trouble, but it comes her way. Often her methods have her before a formal hearing into her actions, but she comes out on top, as often as not. When away from her job, she comes home and focuses on the death of her father by the Bonebreaker. In the the previous book, Deadeye, she put this killer on the back burner, but now he’s front and center in her mind. She’s a well written character, thrilling readers with her actions and earning their respect with her choices in regards to family. Sean Jenkins is the recently appointed Deputy Chief, after the murder of Chief Ross McGinty at the beginning of the book. He’s familiar with Lee’s work, wants her to successful and safe, and does all that he can to keep her on the streets as she’s saving lives. Alala Lee is Cassandra’s absent mother who makes her presence know to her daughter with a letter that causes the protagonist to change her focus. When Alala is finally encountered, her reasons for the reunion will change Cassandra. There are also several other officers and characters that assist Lee on her case, but these two characters are the most influential on her. The antagonist without question is the Bonebreaker. He killed Cassandra’s father and has murdered McGinty by the book’s opening. He is described vaguely, as the best killers are, so as to make every person that Cassandra encounters suspect. The Bonebreaker has a much more active role in this book due to a murder that occurs, but I can’t say how so because it would spoil the last third of the book. Needless to say, he’s a terrific character and was extremely fascinating as he made his way through the novel. The middle of the book has Cassandra going to see her mother and this places her in conflict with a twisted family. These characters were okay, but didn’t have the punch of the Bonebreaker and only served to introduce another group that would plague Cassandra for the remainder of the tale. These characters seemed like a detour from the more real threat of the Bonebreaker; they brought the tension down. Overall grade: B

The settings: The year is 2069 and the world is a very different place. The United States has green zones and red zones: zones for normal humans and zones for mutated humans. Los Angeles and the areas around it are the opening and closing locations of this novel. With the exception of the occasional mutant and a brief trip into “Freaktown”, the settings of the green zone will be familiar to readers. Only when the story goes into the red zone of Nevada does the setting change dramatically, as norms are the odd ones and those that are mutated the new normal. The descriptions of the population set the reader on edge, as danger could be coming from anywhere, and the buildings, though based on structures standing today, have been tweaked enough by Dietz to make them apocalyptic. The location where Alala is located is unusual for what it is, considering what surrounds it. Deitz has created a strong new, unusual, world for Lee to work her way through. Overall grade: A 

The action: I enjoyed the action of the book when it focused on the Bonebreaker case, but felt all that occurred in the red zone to be rote. These portions featured too much running around populated areas, with no one joining in on the carnage, yet everyone that Lee has seen earlier is sporting a gun. Thankfully, when Lee returns to Los Angeles things greatly improve as she tries to find someone. These scenes were exciting and I couldn’t put the book down once she returned to her earlier case. Overall grade: B+ 

The conclusion: An immensely satisfying conclusion, with the protagonist changed in several ways. Overall grade: A

The final line: This was a big improvement over the previous novel, though scenes in the mutant zone continue to be the weakest portions. Action and mystery, wrapped in a broken, mutated near future. I couldn’t stop turning pages. Overall grade: B+

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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