“Adventure is not outside man; it is within” – George Eliot
Author Randall Reneau’s latest novel ‘South of Good’ is the first in a series of Hardin Steel books with its titular protagonist Hardin Steel. Stainless to those close to him, Hardin is an ex DEA officer turned elected sheriff of a small county in Texas. When Rory, his girlfriend gets kidnapped due to his association with a long time friend Wes Stoddard, a drug running pilot; that’s when everything starts going south. Hardin and his PI friend Buck and Wes have to now deal with Mexican drug cartels, a Russian Mercenary and Cuban gangs and also find a way out of the various dangers which seem to be creeping up on them from all sides.
South of Good introduces Hardin Steel as the sheriff / vigilante dishing out justice to those who deserve it; he is a rugged adventure seeking hero who always seems to be one step ahead of his antagonists. The good thing about author Randall Reneau’s writing is that he seems very sure of what he has set out to do. There isn’t any trickery or trying to sensationalize the story or awe the reader with poetic prose. He is a good old story teller in the truest sense of the word, someone who is in complete control of the pacing of the story and the dialogues his characters speak. His main focus isn’t necessarily on concealing the ‘mystery’ in the adventure story but rather on great characterizations and this is what drives the story forward too. He manages to catch hold of the reader’s attention early on and leaves them always wanting more. And that is where the beautifully crafted character of Hardin comes in handy, because no matter what else is going on in the background, you will always be thinking about what Hardin’s next move will be and guessing how he will react next. Along with him, Randall has created some interesting supporting characters as well and they float in and out of the story overwhelmed by our hero.
Even though this is the first book in the series, Randall has created his characters and given them such settings that it is more than implied that they all have been in each other’s lives for a long time. You have to hand it over to Randall for the unpretentious ease with which the plot lines and themes come to him, almost as if he has been living this alternate life of the protagonist in secret. Balancing economy of words with reading fluidity, Randall Reneau has created a highly detailed and accurate landscape for his characters to operate out of. By establishing the flavour and the routine the characters follow in this book, he has already made it easy for the readers to acclimatise and look forward to the rest of the books in the series. And having a super villain like Frederick Ochoa and making Hardin come one up on Ochoa every time is pure guilty pleasure inducing material.
At the end, it’s hard to say who has left you more impressed, the no-nonsense hero Hardin Steel or his creator Randall Reneau. South of Good is a masterful example of how a talented author can manipulate readers at a very visceral level with quick pacing and rapid development of the plot that helps to create a sense of tension that begins on the first page and never lets up. With an excellent plot, well drawn characters and detailed descriptions of red hot scenarios, this should easily find top slot in any reader’s wishlist.
Print Length: 356 pages
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.