So let’s suppose that we start with the question: How can a writer make a thriller fresh and, you know, thrilling? It can’t be from the setting as every town and mountaintop on Earth has to have been used by now for some version of a deadly confrontation. Villains come in more shapes and sizes than cars and perfume bodies combined. And as far as heroes go, would you like yours young or old, alcoholic or non, male or female or perhaps working in teams? It’s all been done before.
Except. The definition of a language is that it contains an infinite variety of sentences, and so if within itself the thriller genre can be considered a sort of sublanguage there is always a new means of expression. The trick is finding it. And hey holy Hallelujah, Travis Hallden Holt found an original route into the ‘hunt down the bad guy’ plot.
“He knew what was going down. Rolled up with popcorn and milk duds.”
Naturally in reviewing a thriller one feels obliged to be vague about plot details, however Holt’s original angle must be mentioned. In a sense, it is based off that old cliche where the weary detective on a manhunt looks out at a crowded street and mutters, ‘He could be any of those people out there.’ Exactly. In the case of Unholy Bargain, the actual assassin known only as the Journeyman has been quite dead for some time but you know what they say, a man who truly enjoys his work never really rests from it. The Journeyman continues his stalking and killing – like a feral cat he quite enjoys the former – by taking over the body of random individuals. He could be anyone because he could be animate in anyone. This gives Unholy Bargain a bit of a Doctor Who feel to it.
However, our hero has no TARDIS or sonic screwdriver to help him along. Deputy Sheriff Nate Barrington is one of those lovely simple souls who just wants to get along in his job and spend a happy life with his one true love, Kaitlyn. Well as luck (or lack thereof) would have it, Kaitlyn Spencer is the next target on the Journeyman’s list. He’s not one for happy endings.
That should be all the setup the reader requires knowing at this time. Travis Hallden Holt delivers his novel with admirable pace. He knows when to give the murderous action a rest and he shows admirable restraint in holding back the details of how and why the Journeyman goes about his business until readers are positively bursting with curiosity. Holt writes with solid, clean prose that is not weighted down with more detail than what is needed. The story’s the thing. Unholy Bargain is a fine and entertaining page turner.