Sam Dryden runs at night. The loss of his wife and child a few years before has left him sleepless. One night, running along the seafront in California, he catches a child fleeing for her life, desperate for him to protect her from the gunmen in pursuit. Sam and the girl, Rachel, hide under a pier and make their escape but from that moment on Sam is driven to help Rachel, to save her as he couldn’t save his own child, and they have no choice but to keep on running. The men on their tails will not give up. Sam has an elite special forces background while Rachel has secrets of her own. If only she could remember them. One thing is for sure. When she remembers, as she surely will, then God help Rachel and Sam.
Runner is not all that it seems. On the surface of it we have the story of a superhero soldier putting the worlds to right, and his life at risk, by protecting a young innocent child against evil bad guys. Possibly, for good measure, the US government is also involved. But this is not quite how it is. Dryden does have the ability and mindset to wipe out an army with his bare hands but he is a far more complicated person than that and as we delve below the expected we discover that there is something special about Sam Dryen, something that pulls us to him and makes us care for him. And as Rachel comments at one point, was it really just a coincidence that she should have run into her saviour by the sea in the middle of the night?
Likewise, Rachel is an enigmatic character, not least because we have no more knowledge than she does about her origins. Clearly, she has been used badly and there is no doubt that the men on her tail want nothing more than to shoot her dead. The fact that they have enormous resources to hand increases our sense of the injustice of the pursuit. But one thing I know about reading Patrick Lee is that he is a thriller writer extraordinaire. When you think you know where a story is heading, he is an expert at pulling the ground out from beneath your feet. There was a while with Runner when I wondered whether Lee was actually treading the conventional path. And then, with a jolt, I took the shock of what he was doing and from that minute on I was glued to the book. I can’t think of any other thriller writer who does this time after time.
On the surface Runner is a cat and mouse chase, catching up a wide range of people in the hunt. But as the race heats up and Sam and Rachel go to ever more lengths to elude their pursuers we learn more about Sam and about Rachel. Rachel is such a vulnerable and affectionate girl, needing a parent just as Sam misses his child, and at the beginning we know only one thing about her, except for how alone she is – she knows what others are thinking. The foreboding that fills the thriller indicates, though, that Rachel’s abilities will go far further than this.
Patrick Lee is well known for the Breach Trilogy, three superb technothrillers that made my jaw drop with the scale and scope of their imaginative power. You can read my review here. Not surprisingly, work is afoot, led by David Goyer, to bring this story to the big screen. While Runner feels smaller in scale than the Breach Trilogy (and it is more thriller than science fiction), there is a sense that this is a series that could know no bounds, thanks to the potential of the enormously likeable, kind and brave Sam Dryden and the soaring vision of Patrick Lee who knows exactly how to make his reader’s imagination fly.
This is a review of the American edition of Runner, published this month. It will be available in the UK later in the year.
Runner is also available as an audiobook read by actor Raúl Esparza (of Law and Order: SVU). You can listen to a clip here.
The Breach Trilogy