Book review: Eye of the Sh*t Storm (A Frost Files novel) by Jackson Ford

(cover image courtesy Hachette Australia)

Los Angeles has clearly done something to make the universe determined to wipe it off the face of the map.

Or at least that part of the universe that has fantastical powers and a sociopathic, the world-done-me-wrong mindset, the drivers of action in Jackson’s Ford’s first two Frost Files books The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind and and Random Sh*t Flying Through the Air and very much presented and accounted for in the third instalment, Eye of the Sh*t Storm, though with a far more humanistic twist.

What has stood out in every one of the Frost Files books is Ford’s ability to deftly blend mind-blowingly intense levels of action with an emotional resonance that is more than keeps up with the neck-breaking speed of the narrative, giving birth to thrillers with heart and soul that are never in any danger of being vessels for empty, blockbustery spectacle.

Helping humanise the action considerably is protagonist Teagan Frost, a young woman who in addition to a gift and love for cooking (in another life she’d been a feted chef but alas, it’s not this one) has psycho-kinetic powers (PK powers for short), so massively present that she can sense metal and other non-organic objects and do all kinds of things to their make-up such as render guns inactive and sense objects moving around her, those wielded by people who mean to do her and team harm.

Her team by the way, are China Shop, a group of people in a hush-hush federal U.S. government agency that hides behind the facade of being a moving company while saving America, and by extension the world you must assume since that’s usually how these things go, from all kinds of bad guys and gals.

“Oh please, like you’ve never wanted to drive at high speed down a Los Angeles storm drain.

Although I’m guessing your fantasy doesn’t involve being chased by a gang of outlaw bikers. Who are shooting automatic weapons at you. And I’m a hundred per cent sure you would prefer not to be in a car holding forty pounds of stolen, high-grade methamphetamine.” (P. 1)

Over the course of the first two books, the membership of the group has changed for a host of reasons, very few of them being due to a quiet retirement in the Bahamas sadly, and so as Eye of the Sh*t Storm opens, there’s four people holding the fort – Reggie, a wheelchair-bound ex-military hacker who runs the operation, Annie Cruz, a Latina woman in mourning after the events of Random Shot Flying Through the Air, Africa, a towering African immigrant who is desperate to prove his worth as a new employee and Teagan, whose special gift means she is more a prisoner than someone to freely pursue her own path in life (which or might not include a renewed shot at romance with one Nic Delacourt).

Much of the emotional energy of the book, and indeed the series as a whole, comes from Teagan’s desire to get back some control of her life; in fact to have a life at all.

Left up to the big boss of China Shop, hard-as-nails Moira Tanner, based in Washington, D.C. Teagan wouldn’t have any kind of life at all – she would eat and sleep and fight the twisted and dark elements of the world that seem determined to wipe L.A. from existence and with it the primacy of the un mutant powers gifted world, and that, rather unsatisfyingly, would be that.

Teagan, all too aware of why she was created in the first place by parents who were more scientists than budding parental units when they birthed her brother, sister and her, fights back at every opportunity as she tries to have friends, do normal things like eat out and be as close to a normal person with choices as she can be.

Jackson Ford (image courtesy official author site)

Sadly, her free agency is limited in the extreme by Tanner, who claims to be protecting Teagan from governmental forces who would slice and dice like an over-enthusiastic informercial promoting handy kitchen gadgets but who seems intent on using her captive for her own ends, which might be noble in intent but come with all kinds of compromise and eclipsed freedoms.

Teagan’s determined push to have a life that means something to her, and which might just include a love life that doesn’t feel like an end of the world disaster movie gone wrong, infuses every last page of Eye of the Sh*t Storm with a raw, anxious humanity, so powerfully impelling this time around that they push her to act in a way that could imperil not just her own life but that of everyone in China Shop too.

The catalyst for this emboldened mindset? The newest super-powered being on the block, a four-year-old kid who can harness electrical power and do frighteningly impressive things with it, the kind that don’t so much light up Christmas light strands or run movie projectors to show films to poor people as leave people not quite alive.

OK, dead, they are very, VERY dead.

Rather wonderfully though, Eye of the Sh*t Storm doesn’t go quite where you think it will go with this grave threat; rather, in keeping with the series to date, it zigzags left then right then takes a flying leap up before darting on 76 degree incline to points of the WTF compass you didn’t even know were there.

“I meet her eyes. A part of me expects her to soften, to finally understand how irrational she’s being, how she can’t possibly ask this of me. Instead, she just shakes her head. Slowly. Side to side.

‘Annie,’ I whisper. ‘Don’t.’

She steps back, like I slapped her.

Then she turns, and runs.” (P. 390)

It’s this imaginative inventiveness, this ballsy chutzpah to swear and challenge the status quo even as you’re imprisoned and impelled by it, that gives the Frost Files series so much verve and vivacity.

As Teagan races to simultaneously deal with a supposed new threat while dealing with what turns out to be a completely different new enemy even as she tries to hang onto her soul and what’s left of her life, Eye of the Sh*t Storm comes alive with action that is as much about exciting things happening as it does about getting to grips with who you are and who you want to be.

Think of it and its series mates as existential angst on a big screen scale and you are some way to understanding what makes Ford’s in your face books such a fantastic joy to read.

They know we want to see cool and big things happen but they also appreciate, and thank god for that in an age where storytelling form too often triumphs over narrative substance, that we need to see humanity as the core of the action.

Without it, it’s all Shakespearian sound and fury signifying nothing which might titillate and excite for a small while but which ultimately leaves you wanting a whole lot more.

Eye of the Sh*t Storm and its predecessors deliver that more you crave with an intensity and passion and an off the charts adventurous spirit that knows the world is wired a particular way, so profoundly powerfully that countering it can be an exhaustingly arduous undertaking seemingly without payoff, but that dares to challenge it anyway in the person of Teagan who if the jaw-dropping ending of this book is any indication is far from f**king over the status quo just yet.

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