ALL THE BIG ONES ARE DEAD is a whirlwind spy story that keeps the action going, but never gets away from the personal stakes for the characters involved. It follows the efforts of several agencies working together to stop a ring of elephant poachers with connections to terrorists.
Though the story eventually settles most of its focus on one character in particular, we get to hear a little bit of everyone’s thoughts, even minor characters who are only with us for one scene. Most of these people have histories with a lot of weight–many involving crime that may be international, some with families that need help, some with unsavory proclivities that could get them into trouble if they were brought to light–and the classic concept of a man being dragged back into an underworld he hoped he’d gotten out of comes up again and again.
In addition to these internal stakes, there are the physical ones–elephants who are butchered by poachers and people are broken and destroyed–primarily by the closest thing we have to a protagonist, Michael Bishop. The irony of this isn’t directly addressed, but the authors describe the killing of an elephant similarly to Bishop’s maiming or killing of several people (as part of an effort to help stop this killing of elephants), so one can’t help but connect them.
It gets readers effectively to the idea that there are no full “good guys” in this world. Another storytelling method used is the peppering of reminders that everyone is being watched at all times. To be given these reminders via one character watching another without their awareness or to have characters bring up in dialogue that they should be careful what they say raises the stakes, reminds readers to trust no one in this story, and keeps us grounded in the present, a time where technology is omnipresent and often seems to be more powerful than human individuals. This conflict between humans and technology comes up throughout ALL THE BIG ONES, as new tech makes life difficult for those trying to stop tech-savvy criminals.
Suspense is all-important in a crime thriller, and it comes through electrifyingly at several points. It would be even more effective if cuts were made–maybe to some distracting minor characters–to streamline this exciting story. Great attention is paid to humor and humanity, other essential elements of this genre.
ALL THE BIG ONES ARE DEAD is a classic spy story told with humor and vigor, and though it is sometimes weighed down with details about minor characters, its detail-oriented approach generally contributes to the joy of reading it.
~Madeline Dennis-Yates for IndieReader