In No Manís Land by G.M. Ford, Frank Corso is finally on his own; in Red Tide his companion, Meg Dougherty, finally left him for good. One of Red Tideís only faults (itís a great book) is the way in which Meg leaves. While her presence is definitely missed in No Manís Land, Ford still manages to make the book gripping. As in Red Tide, we get into the minds of other characters as well as Corsoís, which enriches this book enormously. While it is still not perfect, Ford has written another thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
There has been a riot at a privately-run maximum security prison in Arizona. The leader of the inmates, Timothy Driver, has a special request: he wants Frank Corso to come to the prison, or he will have a guard killed every six hours. It seems that Corso wrote a book about the murders Driver committed, and Driver wants him to come along for the rest of his story and write the truth. The riot also attracts the attention of Melanie Harris of American Manhunt who races down to Arizona to boost sagging ratings. When Corso finally shows up, he finds a situation much more fluid then he imagined. Driver, a fellow inmate named Kehoe, and Corso escape from the prison, and a massive manhunt begins. What is Driver's ultimate purpose for involving Corso in all this? Does he want to go out in a blaze of glory documented by the only writer Driver trusts, or is there another motive? And will Corso survive to tell the tale?
No Manís Land claims to be a "cross-country journey" for Corso, but it turns out to just be a few Western states. Still, Ford has once again branched beyond his native Seattle, and this time it doesn't feel as forced as it did in A Blind Eye, where the Midwest didn't really feel like the Midwest. This time it feels more natural as Corso and company travel from the deserts of Arizona to the mountains of Nevada and beyond. That could be because I'm not as familiar with that environment as I am the Midwest. Still, Ford seems to do a great job with the setting.
The best things about Ford's books are usually the characters, and he doesn't disappoint here - with a few odd exceptions. Corso is, of course, wonderfully done. It's unclear how long it's been since Meg left, but he clearly still misses her at the beginning of the book, and she even pops up in his mind occasionally during everything else. He's still the same man, though, always looking out for the underdog and not taking any grief from the higher authorities. His relationship with the FBI in this one is typically rough, and it predictably causes some dangerous situations as he is not believed when he finally does try and call them in. His relationship with Melanie is a little more unusual, as we're not used to seeing him in a casual fling (Meg has been around since the beginning for the reader of the series), but it does seem to develop in a natural fashion, at least as far as Corso is concerned.
Melanie is a bit more of a mixed bag. She's set up to be a mirror image of John Walsh (American Manhunt is basically America's Most Wanted), though she is given a few different characteristics (besides the obvious fact that she's a woman). When her daughter was killed, she began a crusade in a similar fashion as Walsh, ending up with the show. Unfortunately, she dragged her husband along with all this as she became a media star, but he's withdrawn into himself and doesn't want any part of this. Her time in Los Angeles has seen a chasm form between the two of them, and he moves back to Wisconsin while she's on assignment in Arizona. I kept wondering how much of her character was based on Walsh (just the history of a murdered child, or some of the subsequent events too?).
On a side note, I was also a little uncomfortable with Ford stating that Samantha's death and Melanie's crusading resulted in the Amber Alert system. In a fictionalized world like this, I believe he should have called it something else, as the Amber Alert was named for a real Amber, and not changing the name seems to trivialize her death (in addition to making it very odd that it's still called "Amber" instead of "Samantha").
Ford gets into the mind of the villain, Driver, but he spends too much time there. Fans of Corso may find that he's not in the book enough, as we see things from Driver's point of view, Melanie's, and a few other bit characters. It's kind of fun to see the FBI agents and their internal reactions to Corso (rather than just what Corso himself sees), but I did miss Corso at times, wishing he'd come back onto the scene. Driver's motivation isn't firmly established, either. The reason that seems to be given at the end of the book (which, of course, I won't tell you) doesn't indicate why Corso is so important to him, especially as he keeps insisting to Koher that Corso can't be killed because he has to tell Driver's story. It just didn't seem complete, especially given the way the book does finally end.
Even with that, though, No Manís Land will keep you turning the page, especially if you're already a fan of Corso's. Ford's dialogue is always wonderful, and he avoids the political statements that Red Tide was filled with. The plot is intriguing (even if Driver's motivation doesn't really work) and the characterization is great. No Manís Land is another winner.