Wanted was first published in 2016 and is screenwriter Jo Ho’s first novel for younger readers. It’s a science fiction thriller, focusing on a teenage girl and a dog on the run from a sinister organisation. The book forms the first part of the Chase Ryder series and its sequel – Haunted – is due for release later this year.

Life on the streets is hard for fifteen-year-old Chase Ryder. She came to Greenwich hoping for a better life, yet has found only hunger and loneliness. Yet everything changes when she comes across a starving dog. Chase quickly realises that there is something odd about the creature. He’s smarter than he should be, more than able to understand everything that she says. It’s not long before the two of them become firm friends and Chase gives him a name – Bandit.

Things are starting to look up for Chase until Bandit is hurt. Badly. This brings her to the doorstep of local vet, Jake Sullivan. Sully is passionate about animals yet lives a half-life, unable to get over the tragic death of his wife. As he examines Bandit, he discovers a medical tattoo in the dog’s ear and calls the lost pet hotline to report that he has been found. This turns out to be a huge mistake.

Suddenly, the clinic is surrounded by armed thugs and Chase, Sully and Bandit are forced to flee into the night. It’s clear that Bandit has a sinister history and someone is desperate to get him back. The trio flee across America, desperately trying to learn more about Bandit’s origins. Yet doing so will not be easy. How can they keep ahead of someone with endless resources at their disposal?

I’ve got to admit that I wasn’t optimistic about Wanted. I find thrillers to be a bit hit and miss, yet I was looking for some light entertainment as my last couple of reads were a bit hard going. I am pleased to say that this book was pleasantly surprising on all levels. While I did get the brain-in-a-box enjoyment that I was hoping for, there was actually a lot more to this story than I was expecting.

Wanted is what I would call a clean read. The writing is crisp and clear, and the subject matter is more than appropriate for young teen readers. The novel is very quick to find its feet, opening on an unnamed businessman ordering someone that he refers to as “The Mercenary” to stop at nothing to find “Alpha”. Within a few short chapters, Chase and Bandit discover one another and the dog’s unnatural intelligence is revealed to the reader. The stage is set ready for the action to come.

The book is divided into 147 chapters, many of which were only a few pages long and narrated by one of four characters. While this sort of thing would usually seem gimmicky to me, in this case it did make the story flow really well. Each of the characters had a very different personality and world view so I never felt lost as to who was talking.

The only thing about this structure that I didn’t really think worked was the changes in perspective. While Sully and Chase tended to narrate their chapters in first person, the CEO and the Mercenary’s chapters were always in third. To make things worse, the author did occasionally slip up with this and tell parts of Sully’s story in third person. While I expect that this was a genuine error, it was jarring and the kind of thing that I would have expected an editor to catch.

Yet this small grammatical blip didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the story. While Wanted shares its concept with the likes of Dean Koontz’s Watchers and countless children’s films of the 80s and 90s, it did still draw me in and by the half-way point I was finding it difficult to put down. However, I must admit that some of the plotting of the second half did stretch my suspension of disbelief a little too far. Perhaps this is just me being over critical but there were a number of really convenient plot points (the worst of which being how Sully manages to get hold of a CT scanner). For a supposed genius, the CEO also seems to have a very shaky grasp of science. I understand that he is fuelled by desperation, yet anyone with eyes can see that he is really grasping at straws with what he hopes to achieve.

Yet I did enjoy the ethics of this story, as it left me with a lot of food for thought. Animal testing is something that people have very strong feelings about and it was nice to see that the book did consider both sides of the argument. While the CEO’s treatment of Bandit and the other dogs was undeniably cruel, the reader is given a glimpse into his motivation which shows that he did have a reason for behaving so desperately. I’m not going to say anything more here as I don’t want to spoil the novel for you, but it did make me think about what I would do if I was in his position and had his resources at my disposal.

Yet the strongest thing about this novel was its characters. There is a running theme of the importance of family throughout this story, with many cast members linked by their lousy (and sometimes traumatic) childhoods. The conclusion it forms is that people need the closeness of family, yet this doesn’t necessarily have to be a bond of flesh and blood. Through their shared ordeal, Chase, Sully and Bandit all form a very close friendship which enables each of them to overcome their individual problems.

Sully really stood out as my favourite character in the story, as Ho made his pain feel incredibly real. He’s spiralling further and further into depression and it takes Chase’s arrival in his life to break him out of his self-destruction. It was kind of nice to see their bond growing as the story progressed as it’s so rare to see a book for younger readers that portrays the friendship between a young girl and older man in a positive and non-creepy way.

Chase was also a likeable protagonist and some of her dialogue really brought a smile to my face. I love how her relationship with Bandit gradually grew throughout the novel as the two find a way to communicate with each other. The only character that I felt was completely 2-dimensional was the Mercenary. We don’t really find out much about him, as even his name isn’t revealed until the climax of the story. He was just too much like a James Bond henchman to feel very convincing.

Anyhow, I think I’ve probably rambled on for long enough. If you’re looking for a light read, you could do far worse than Wanted. While it’s plot is a bit generic, it’s good clean fun and it really does draw you in. The narrative is fast-paced and the characters are very strong and memorable. I can’t wait to get my paws on the sequel.

Wanted can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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  1. Trackback: The Sobeks 2017 – Part 3 | Arkham Reviews

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