I had the pleasure to meet John Dixon at the World Horror Convention in New Orleans in 2013. I’d already connected with him on Facebook, exchanging tips and views, and when I met him, I wasn’t surprised to find out we’d become instant friends. Dixon is a cool dude.
I’d read one of his books written for Permuted Press under a pseudonym and enjoyed it, but not his big debut, PHOENIX ISLAND, the novel on which the CBS show INTELLIGENCE was based. I finally did read it, and I’m glad I did.
Carl Freeman is an orphan who’s gotten bounced around to various foster homes because he’s violent. He has a pathological hatred of bullies, and when he sees bullying, he can’t stop himself from getting involved. Very strong and highly skilled at boxing, he dishes out harsh punishments that always land him in trouble and a new foster home. Then he goes one fight too far, landing him in so much trouble he may be sent to juvenile penitentiary. The judge offers him a choice. Jail or Phoenix Island, a boot camp-style rehabilitation camp for troubled youths. Stay there until he’s 18, stay out of trouble, and he’s out with a clean record.
But Phoenix Island isn’t what it’s supposed to be. Carl and the other kids are systematically brutalized by sadistic drill sergeants. Soon, they realize they’re not only outside the United States but also any laws protecting them. There’s a purpose to it all, in which Carl will find his destiny. Phoenix Island, it turns out, is ground zero for the future of combat intelligence.
PHOENIX ISLAND may feature a teen as its main character, and you might find it in the YA section at many bookstores, but it’s a brutal, hard-hitting book with huge appeal for adults as well as teens. F. Paul Wilson, creator of the REPAIRMAN JACK series, called it “LORD OF THE FLIES meets WOLVERINE and COOL HAND LUKE.” Like the novel’s protagonist, Dixon was a Golden Gloves boxer, and it shows in his writing. (He also plays chess like a boxer.) Jab, jab, jab–always keeping the initiative–and then POW. The pacing and crisp style of the book moves things forward, and the protagonist, while flawed, is almost immediately likeable so that you care what happens to him. Dixon keeps things simple, keeps them moving, puts his protagonist in almost impossible situations, and makes you care.
Recommended. The sequel, DEVIL’S POCKET, is coming August 2015.