Review by Karl Verhoven
While he’d already dabbled in the genre, it was the finally crafted espionage action thrillers of The Activity that surely saw Nathan Edmonson acquire the gigs writing the Punisher and Black Widow for Marvel.
The Activity of the title is more completely known as Intelligence Support Activity, and its agents are responsible for gathering and supplying data to American armed forces. As displayed by the missions here, they’re also extremely hands-on, often cleaning up after the activities of others.
It’s a measure of how successful Edmondson has been in capturing that shady world that he’s commended for his accuracy in an introduction provided by writer Kevin Maurer, whose CV indicates he knows his onions. That accuracy, though, comes at a price. The characters speak in acronyms, contractions and cynical soundbites indicating they’re bad-asses immersed in their dank world, but any honest reader will be constantly referencing the glossary thankfully provided in the rear. It’s a frustrating process flicking back and forth.
Edmondson sends his operatives on a global tour in five individual tales, but The Activity is a curiously soul-less book. There’s so much concentration on the verisimilitude and the mechanics of the plot that we never come to know the cast to any significant degree, and were it not for the visual distinction applied by Mitch Gerads their dialogue could be pretty well interchangeable. This also drains tension from what’s presented. Why should you care if one of the team’s in danger if you barely have any idea who they are?
Then we have the attempts to balance the macho business. “Wars aren’t much but the failure of the church and state” or “Every bullet fired is a mistake.” It bears all the sincerity of the stuff that Stallone or Van Damme tossed off in 1990s action movies as they gazed over the carnage following ten minutes of celluloid slaughter. These soundbites may read well, but a moment’s thought permits the have your cake and eat it nature to seep through.
Gerads, by contrast is extremely impressive. His hardware, his characterisation and his layouts are all first rate, and on occasion he really brings the locales to life. You believe you’re seeing a rainy night in Afghanistan, but other places might be anywhere.
If not high on characterisation, Edmondson’s plots become trickier as The Activity continues, and it’s always encouraging when a book ends on the best chapter before moving to the second volume. Here that’s the team captured and interrogated in Thailand, with Edmondson supplying a good twist and ramping up the tension as it’s already been noted that ISA personnel are expendable. He contrasts that with team leader Danny Locke’s recruitment.
With the terminology so spot on that some sources couldn’t be thanked for fear of compromising national security, Edmondson knows his market, and those that share his vision love The Activity. It fills a niche, and that’s always welcome, but until that final chapter anyone not enraptured by intel, sitreps and sigint won’t find much to enjoy beyond an appreciation of Gerads’ art. There is a volume two.