NOMAD: A Story From The Reels by Brian B. Ewing is the second book in a series that focuses on Tom Sisto, an introvert with a tragic past gifted with a psychic power to experience first-person memories of both victims and killers. These visions come to him like an old-school projector, the back of his eyelids acting as the screen, so he has named them “The Reels. Sisto once consulted with his local police, using his visions—which have a mind of their own—to help them with violent cases; however, after the events of Oracle, the first book of the series, he’s trained to be an official police officer, on the verge of being S.W.A.T. certified. He’s joined an experimental task force where he hopes to use his new skills and unique gift to serve and protect, honouring the memory of those close to him whose lives were taken, to which he feels a sense of guilt and responsibility.
Like Oracle, Nomad focuses on a particular serial killer, but this time, the maniac has no ties to Sisto, a completely unknown variable. Andrick Wesley is a man who believes his killings provide the world with a service by weeding out those he considers undesirable, but he also goes after those who present a threat to him—or a challenge! Starting as a teenager, Wesley’s killing is an addiction, a tapping at the base of his neck, a hunger, a need for satiation, increasing with potency and demand year after year.
Ewing explores a myriad of intriguing themes within Nomad. There are some expected tropes, like time-sensitive crime-solving, the hero-villain gun standoff, and a killer who sees their “dark urges” as a distinctive, inexorable presence detached from his autonomy. Nothing comes across as gimmicky, forced or “been there, done that.” If a writer approaches any trope with respect and ingenuity, I welcome its usage, and as with his earlier crime-fiction work, Ewing is absolutely successful here. Especially the well-paced, exhilarating gun standoff. And for the less routine themes, Ewing writes these with sharp precision, carrying over his distinctive voice and talent for engaging thriller fiction seen in Oracle. Everything is well-rounded and thought-out textually with a good flow that keeps the reader interested. Particularly notable is that these themes occasionally work against each other in exciting ways.
For Andrick Wesley? Think of the methodology of planned murder in contrast to the liability of repetitive, patterned behaviour. Or the thrill of on-the-spot decisions, the instinctual recognition of opportunity counter to the designed selection of a target, a victim. For Sisto, it’s the ability to utilize police training to recognize clues, think strategically, and initiate direct action—but then there’s “The Reels.” Their unique capability to provide our hero with valuable foresight into the past or present of a victim or killer, something no one else has access to. Still, they rarely give him instant understanding or direction on implementing this information to save lives. Like Sisto, the reader walks a fine line between exasperation and anticipatory excitement.
Ewing’s writing is clever in its complexity, but he makes sure that sophistication is digestible; it isn’t necessary to reread scenes to figure out what’s going on or who said what. The author retains the fluidity of the narrative, never veering off into unnecessary subplots involving secondary characters that lead nowhere. Thankfully, the author spares us from any such triteness. Sisto is the star, but I was just as fully invested in former motorcycle gang member and ex-con turned police consultant Fitz Ackerman, a new character in the series. All primary and ancillary characters’ contributions make sense, adding to the overall narrative.
I’m pleased that the author stayed with the recognizable identities and personalities of characters established in Oracle, like Sisto, Ama, and Detective Bell, ensuring clarity and a cohesive entry to the series. But, as any good writer should, he’s given everyone organic growth, staying within believability. No one remains creatively stagnant. Even gruff, black coffee-drinking, Sisto-disliking Det. Bell, who could have easily stayed functioning in that role, adapts and surprises. Ewing inserts all creative twists and turns where they will be the most beneficial to the success of the overall narrative; they’re never schlocky or transparent.
A pleasant feature in Nomad that was absent from Oracle is the addition of LGBTQ content. And Ewing doesn’t relegate the queerness to a one-dimensional plot device used for shock value without any narrative significance or vital character development. It’s nice to read crime fiction, especially a tight, compelling thriller, where “just being gay” isn’t all the effort a writer has to put into their story to justify their killer’s impetus, whether they succeed in killing or not. The way Ewing works the queer content into this story is fresh and unexpected. The author has previously included racial and culturally diverse characters in his work with thought and care, without a need to textually justify or explain their existence in the narrative. He does so again here. With the addition of Nomad to his body of work, I’ve come to see Ewing as a savvy, adept writer who provides a place for diverse people to just exist in his fiction, period, and allow unfortunate things to happen to them, just like they can to anyone. Everyone is fair game—with the absence of unfair stereotyping. Yeah!!
In my review of Oracle, I wrote about my sense that “The Reels” had a possible consciousness, an enigmatic sentience if not a direct personality, and questioned whether its origin is supernatural or science-based. That wasn’t explored further in Nomad, but I hope we learn more about this one day, perhaps in the third novel of the series, Brimstone. If not, I implore the author to satiate my curiosity! I NEED TO KNOW!
Nomad: A Story From The Reels is a compelling, character-driven Urban Thriller that’s a must-read. This book has so much to offer: biker culture, undercover police work, allies and adversaries, including a cunning, calculating serial killer, and an independently wealthy, newbie police officer with a psychic gift. If you’re looking for a story with grit, suspense, blood, and tension, this is the novel for you!