Overlook by Jon Mollison Book Review
Overlook [Silver Empire affiliate link] is another entry in the Heroes Unleashed universe, this time we get a spy novel in world of superheroes. Joe Smith, a man whose name is not the only forgettable thing about him, quietly supports himself as a penetration tester, hired by companies to test the vulnerabilities in their security. Joe has an extremely unfair advantage in this, insofar as anyone who isn’t actively paying attention to him cannot notice him.
This might sound like a pretty sweet gig, but Joe’s power also means that he is perpetually lonely. A moment of inattention and Joe just fades from your mind. The mundane pleasures of family and friends are hard to come by. Even if he made a friend, they would forget to call. At one point, Joe jokes that he is lucky he didn’t starve in his crib.
A man of less character might be tempted to do a great many things of ill repute, secure in the knowledge that anonymity is all but assured. However, Joe is such a straight arrow that he dutifully files his taxes every year even though the IRS always loses the paperwork.
Thus, when Joe stumbles across an enforcer and two heavies harassing the immigrant manager of a convenience store, he simply does what he feels is right, even though he could have simply walked away with none of the participants in the drama ever having noticed him. Since Joe overheard that the manager had earned this visit by being unable to acquiesce in the trafficking of children, he feels his duty is clear.
While Joe’s ability guarantees surprise, he cannot hide from hostile attention. Thus, once he intervenes by dropping one of the thugs with a glass bottle to the temple, the rest of the fight relies on Joe’s merely mortal strength, speed, and wits. Since Joe is no stranger to violence and death, a former Marine Recon sniper, he acquits himself well, and saves the woman and her daughter.
Joe doesn’t think much of this, implying that he has done similar things before. However, this time, Joe has interfered with an organization, the Phoenix Ring, with the reach and patience to hunt him down. A superpower-enhanced game of cat and mouse begins after Joe intervenes in that convenience store, with the Phoenix Ring somehow able to know what Joe is doing before he does, but Joe’s power to elude notice, wits, and pluck somehow bring him through.
An element of Joe’s power that I really appreciate is that Joe honed his craft by surreptitiously studying con artists, stage magicians, and covert operatives. In a sense, Joe’s power is only a minor improvement on what a skilled sleight-of-hand artist can do, or the way in which an actor like Tom Hanks can attend public events by acting like a nobody. But a minor improvement is still an improvement in a winner-takes-all game like the one Joe is playing. That Joe applied himself so diligently when he clearly could have coasted through life is an interesting lens on his character.
And I think character is important here, because what else is it that separates villains from heroes? Character can be described as what you do when no one is looking, and for Joe, no one is ever looking.
I was provided a review copy by the publisher.
Silver Empire books are available directly through the publisher, so I have linked to their online store.
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