At the heart of Predatory Instinct lies a gory, action packed story with some incredible set pieces. However, the flaws in this book undermine the positives, making it – ultimately – a bloated, slightly irritating read.
The plot centres around an unidentified hominin that is unearthed in the Siberian wilderness – the archaeologists that find the specimens are brutally butchered. Unfortunately – for all concerned – one of the slaughtered scientists is the son of a wealthy, ambitious member of the elite. The creature escapes his clutches to Seattle and enters the radar of a variety of agencies, including the Seattle Police Department, FBI and Department of Defence. The situation grows from a power struggle over the creature into a bloody battle royal between the powers that be.
Despite a strong opening, the book quickly buckles. The characters are disappointing and largely one-dimensional clichés. The two chief protagonists are a muscle-bound FBI Agent and an underappreciated, but beautiful, female police officer. Neither have anything remarkable or interesting in their personalities, making it hard to empathise with their plight. There is only one significant occasion where a character does something unexpected. The lack of strong, unique characters is problematic. Elena Sterm, the aforementioned female cop, is a prime example; she is not strong enough to drive the plot forward successfully. Sterm cries so frequently that the tears lose their desired impact, evoking irritation rather than sympathy. Had the crying been used sparingly, the character would have been far more believable.
McBride writes action scenes very fluidly, the initial slaughter of the archaeological team and the murder of a former marine are particular highlights. These scenes showcase his ability to give the reader something unexpected, although this does not happen often enough.
Despite the intense combat scenes, the pacing in Predatory Instinct is some way off that required to make it a coherent thriller. One of the key flaws in the book – and a major problem throughout – is that the prose is too flabby. To his credit, McBride displays the ability to write sumptuous descriptions, at times, but he consistently overwrites, highlighting even the most mundane of items or locations down to the smallest of details. This is a great shame and becomes particularly frustrating as many scenarios are spoilt by this tendency to flesh out the narrative. Predatory Instinct as a whole would have been a much stronger book if McBride had trusted his reader to build the details in their own imagination rather than spoon-feeding every single detail.
There are also a number of ill-judged social commentaries in the latter part of the book; thinly veiled jibes at Starbucks and Apple seem to be out of kilter with the writer’s main themes. In addition to this, McBride philosophises about a potential future war between the United States and China, this passage is clearly meant to be patriotic yet achieves nothing more than misguided paranoia.
However, Predatory Instinct does reach some highs throughout the book. Michael McBride’s style echoes Michael Crichton – his impressive scientific knowledge blends well into his prose. McBride builds a creature that is both believable and fearsome. The brutality of the creature’s signature kill is impressive, whilst McBride ensures that the body count ticks over throughout. McBride’s creature is a sympathetic lynchpin to the book and some of the better moments revolve around its varying reactions to the human characters it interacts with. At its best Predatory Instinct matches the might of Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child; however it lacks the consistent, flowing narrative that made Relic successful.
Predatory Instinct is an ambitious book that blends science with explosive confrontations. There are some interesting ideas explored around the central creature but the fluency of the plot sags badly on a number of occasions, unfortunately some of the best writing is lost in the midst of so many overwritten pages. One-dimensional characters don’t help push the narrative to the heights that it should reach. There is a good story in this book, but sadly, it takes some digging to find it.