★★★★ Blood on the Rhine by William Dempsey kicks off a new thriller series, which follows private eye Jake Bodine, a soft-spoken ladies’ man with a hard shell. Jake is working steadily but quietly in Orlando, Florida, when he is approached by a special agent from the FBI. It seems Jake’s methods are just what they need to help crack an international drug cartel. Promised a heavy payout, Jake accepts the Bureau’s offer and heads to Marseilles, where he assumes a new identity and settles down to the business of infiltrating the criminal syndicate. But gaining the trust of the local gang leaders is just the first step in bringing the whole operation crashing down. Now, the real work begins.
Rhine is Dempsey’s sixth novel, and it’s clear the author has found his medium. Calling on professional and military experiences, he has been able to spin memory into bombastic action—the very sort that leaves readers breathless and begging for more. Rhine is markedly different, in that Dempsey has now set his sights on the rich, seedy underbelly of Europe to tell new tales of danger and depravity. It’s all quite a lot of fun, and the only quality of Dempsey’s writing that warrants a demerit is the protagonist’s womanizing behavior. Many of the female characters who have influence on the book’s plot end up sleeping with the protagonist at one point or another. It feels like a thematic holdover from the days of Agent 007. This isn’t to say that Dempsey writes weak women—or that having sex makes characters less relatable or less important than others—rather, it is a comment that modern readers might prefer to see their strength and self-reliance take up more page time than their sensuality. Still, this is a minor gripe, and the book as a whole is nearly flawless.