A Book Spy Review: ‘Final Target’ By John Gilstrap


Jonathan Grave and his partner, Boxers, knew their most recent job was dangerous well before they agreed to head deep into a Mexican jungle to rescue a DEA agent named Harry Dawkins. Not only did intel reports suggest that Dawkins would be heavily guarded inside the compound of a known drug cartel, but it was believed that the cartel had additional reinforcements close by.

By all accounts, the odds are stacked against Grave, who goes by his call sign ‘Scorpion,’ and Boxers, who goes by ‘Big Guy.’ However, things take a darker turn for the duo once they’re ambushed in the middle of the night and left for dead by the very people who sent them.

After their eye-in-the-sky support suddenly becomes unreachable, Scorpion and Big Guy lead Dawkins, their precious cargo, towards their exfil point while fighting off cartel gunman along the way. But upon reaching the designated extraction point, Scorpion realizes that they’ve been crossed when their getaway chopper and pilot are nowhere to be found.

After they’re engaged by more gunmen, Jonathan learns that among the dead cartel members, who call themselves the Jungle Tigers, was the brother of their leader, Alejandro Azul.

On their own and on the run, Scorpion, Big Guy, and Dawkins take up shelter in an orphanage located in a remote part of the jungle. As Jonathan and Boxers work all the angles trying to figure out who set them up, two things become abundantly clear: Whoever burned them wants Dawkins dead, which means there is a much larger conspiracy in play. And secondly, their presence at the orphanage has put the children’s lives in danger.

Throughout the story, Grave is conflicted. While he knows Dawkins is the mission and his job is to see to it that the DEA agent is returned back to the States, he can’t help but feel responsible for the kids who’ve endured hell on earth for far too long. Most of the children watched their parents be slaughtered by the cartels (or Alejandro Azul himself), and staying put–after they gave aid to Americans the cartels are gunning–for would mean certain death.

Ultimately, Jonathan decides to take the children, hoping there might be a way to get them into the United States where they could have a real chance at life.

The decision to take the kids, though, comes at a price. With no vehicle large enough to accommodate all of them, their only option is to go by foot through the rough jungle. As Jonathan, Boxers, and Dawkins lead the kids north, they’ll have to find a way to go a hundred-plus miles on foot, with a bloodthirsty Alejandro Azul–who vows to avenge his brother–and his goons hot on their trail.

That setup kicks off an action-packed few hundred pages, full of suspense and more than a few gunfights and well-timed explosions. 

Along the way, Jonathan bonds with one of the oldest orphans, a Mexican boy named Tomás, who reminds Grave a lot of himself at that age. Gilstrap uses their relationship to further develop his main character (who readers will find especially relatable in this novel) but without getting too emotional. This is, after all, a thriller, and Gilstrap’s ninth Grave novel is some of his finest work yet. 

Newcomers to the series might benefit from slightly more backstory to the secondary characters, as the scenes away from Grave, which are infrequent, take longer to develop. On the flip side, by not rehashing everyone’s past actions, as some authors tend to do, Gilstrap is able to keep the pacing steady and moving at a good speed.

Dropping your characters into the jungle is one thing, but expecting readers to follow them around for nearly four hundred pages is another thing entirely. Gilstrap, though, uses spot-on descriptions to make the jungle come to life, adding a fun, and at times creepy, element to his story. Readers will feel like they’re shoulder-to-shoulder with Scorpion and Big Guy, running from the cartel with the mission on the line. 

As a larger conspiracy slowly takes shape, further putting Grave’s mission–and life–in jeopardy, Gilstrap leads readers on an exciting adventure that twists, turns, and shoots its way to an electrifying ending.

It’s no secret that this summer is jam-packed with a number of highly-anticipated new releases. But while the majority of this year’s political thrillers and spy novels focus on either Russia or ISIS,  Gilstrap offers something completely different, making Final Target a strong pick for readers in search of a plot that features something other than Russian or Middle Eastern bad guys.

Book Details

Author: John Gilstrap
Series: Jonathan Grave #9
Pages: 432 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1496712692
Publisher: Kensington
Release Date: June 27, 2017 (Order Now!)


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