The Kensei (Jon F. Merz)

Time completed: 11:30 a.m.  

Date completed: 2/2/2011

Days to read: 8


Espionage novel meets new twist on vampire lore? Yes please!

The Kensei is the fifth book in the Lawson Vampire series, but it acts as a grand stand-alone as a sort of revitalization of the series. Let me just say this, very loud and very clear, this book will bring this series back.  There is a likable, yet cynical narrator in Lawson; a subdued, but important love story; organ-trafficking (which is not the run-of-the-mill crime of choice in the fiction I read); and vampire ninjas.

Oh yes, you read that last bit correctly. Vampire ninjas.

Maybe that sounds silly to you, and maybe you are laughing just a little bit right now, or maybe you’re getting that rush of giddy excitement (I did!); but in fact, there is a deep respect throughout this book for the martial arts culture. That respect is personified through Lawson (one of many vampire ninjas) and contrasted against the bad guy, The Kensei (also a vampire ninja).  I’ve got to say, also, it was fantastic to read hand-to-hand combat, as well as sword combat. The combat scenes are described in vivid detail, making them easy to visualize. While the occasional gun fight did erupt, the very close and personal nature of martial arts combat was new and a great pleasure to read.

Andbutso, the plot…

The Kensei is set in Japan, where Lawson goes for some much needed R&R after untangling a larger conspiracy thread in, I assume, at least the fourth book. But I wouldn’t really know.  This is the first Lawson book I’ve read, and as I said, it does stand alone very well. Merz throws in just enough detail about the happenings of the first four Lawson books to keep the reader well-informed and grounded in the action; my lack of intricate knowledge of Lawson’s previous crime-fighting adventures was in no way inhibiting. It is just like any other great story: Lawson has a history. A history I now, thankfully, get to read while I wait for the sixth book.

But just writing a book about Lawson’s vacation in Japan would be boring, and The Kensei is anything but boring. Lawson’s girlfriend, Talya, shows up in Japan asking for his help to stop organ-trafficking. So, as it would go, Lawson and Talya team up in Japan to stop organ-trafficking. The crime here is just terrible enough to hook the reader onto Lawson’s side, which is necessary because we’re being thrown smack into the middle of an already well-developed character arc. You had better believe I was rooting for Lawson and Talya from the get-go.

If you’re worried that the love duo becoming a crime duo will be nauseating, well don’t.  Talya is a seriously tough chick, and she while she undoubtedly loves Lawson, she is also very good at what she does. Which is kill people. Once again, the love story between Lawson and Talya was developed in previous novels, so the bond between them in The Kensei is refreshingly solid.

 The Take Away?

The moment my “No Book Buying” mandate is lifted, I am ordering the first four Lawson books on my Nook and reading them. Nothing else will get me through the wait for the sixth Lawson book.

And I should mention the vampires: the vampire myth Merz has created is something new. If for nothing else, this book would be a refreshing bit of vampire fiction. But it is so much more than that. The Kensei is a true espionage novel with martial arts and vampires as an added bonus.