I’ve not read Smith’s previous Hector Cross novels, so it is possible that I was a bit of a disadvantage reading this, given the clear complexity of the characters’ backgrounds where they have crossed paths more than once. Fortunately the history is fairly well explained in around the first 10% of the book, though it does come across a little as being sort of shoehorned in to set the scene so the story can leap forward.
I’m not sure how much of the book was Wilbur Smith and how much Tom Cain (who I’ve not read) but to me the prose felt slightly different from Smith’s usual form – though not in a bad way. Just different.
The plot moves forward apace at all times and rarely lags at all, which is good with this sort of thriller. One seeks immediacy and excitement, after all. From the initial jailbreak – not a spoiler really, since it’s at the start – through the whole text, there’s a rousing quality to the book and a fairly cinematic feel.
The characters are, in fairness, a little 2-dimensional for me. The hero is just a little bit too heroic and powerful, the bad guy is lifted straight from a scene where he should be torturing James Bond, etc. Mind you, with thrillers, strong character archetypes help drive the plot, and it might be that a little more greyness and depth of character could have slowed the tale.
The storytelling itself flip-flops a little between cliched soap-opera and excellent in-your-face phrasing. The result is not jarring, though, and for me the moments of sheer genius prose more than made up for the more eye-rolling moments.
Overall? For me this is not a genre-defining novel, and don’t expect great literary fayre. But if what you’re looking for is a few hours of fun excitement with solidly-written action scenes and villains you can boo at, then you can do a lot worse than Predator.