Full disclosure: James writes for Psycho Drive-In, but only started working with us after I had read and agreed to review his first novel. This review is long overdue and will be as unbiased as humanly possible and spoiler-free.


Taking place in 1999 against the backdrop of the Second Liberian Civil War, James Radcliff’s debut novel The Subcontractors: The Liberian Incident, is a refreshing and inventive approach to combining historical, military, and occult literature that features a solid balance of character development and physical horror from start to finish.

The titular Subcontractors are a group of CIA agents from all walks of life whose main goal is to protect the world from occult disaster. While this in itself isn’t the most original idea, it’s what Radcliff does with the concept that sets it apart from other works of this stripe. The characters are diverse and multi-faceted, with distinct backstories that are gradually teased out over the course of the novel. It’s a structure that could easily get out of hand and throw the narrative balance off, but Radcliff deftly maneuvers the reader back and forth through time and setting between the individual origin stories for each character and the wartime horrors of the Second Liberian Civil War.

While each character is well-developed and their interactions form the basis for most of their development, it’s the chaos and carnage of the Civil War that helps to really prove distinctive to Radcliff’s approach. The nightmarish scenario is clearly well-researched and touches on a historical event that is rarely, if ever, addressed in any media. But that doesn’t mean that the occult elements are ever neglected, as Radcliff devotes a lot of attention to the mechanics of magic and the exploration of the monstrous.

From it’s cold open, introducing us to most of the characters on a disastrous and deadly earlier mission, to the almost locust-like plague of undead horrors sweeping across Liberia in the finale, The Subcontractors: The Liberian Incident is an action-packed, character-driven story that is made for translation into comics, television, or film.

If there’s one drawback to the novel, it’s a purely technical one. The editing of this book is practically non-existent and the formatting does the complicated narrative structure no favors. There are typos, misspellings, and repetitions on nearly every single page, and with no distinctions between scene shifts, there were many times when it took a few paragraphs before I could tell when or where we were in the story. And with a story this meticulously structured with flashbacks and spatial jumps, it made the actual reading experience tedious and frustrating.

That’s the single reason that it has taken so long for this review to get written. I couldn’t read for more than a few chapters at a time without getting annoyed and putting the book down for a while. Then, trying to decide how the editing should weigh into the review took some thinking.

Overall, though, The Subcontractors: The Liberian Incident is an adventure well worth taking on.  And with a second adventure just about to hit the shelves, now is the perfect time to pick this one up and see what the fuss is all about. But be warned, if editing issues put you off, your mileage may vary.


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