No Mercy & Make Them Pay reworks 2024

Mike Grist Uncategorized Leave a Comment

I wrote a pretty epic report on how I rewrote Saint Justice back in Sept 2023 – a process which has since continued as I have rewritten books 2 and 3, No Mercy and Make Them Pay – ultimately by much more than I’d expected. I’m doing this for multiple reasons, primarily because I think the books have weaknesses and can be better and get better readthrough – and I’m doing it now because the series is getting re-recorded by WF Howes using Jeff Harding as narrator, and we have a launch schedule to meet.

First, though, a report on the Saint Justice rewrite. It may be too early to say anything about the change in readthrough – I haven’t noticed much of an uptick, but I have noticed a change in the reviews it’s been getting. In the dark days of <10% readthrough, even positive reviews would say the book exhausted them and they’d need to take a break before reading another.

No one has said that in months. The reviews Saint Justice gets now have been wholly positive, with excerpts like:

  • My first book by Mike Grist but I definitely won’t be my last!
  • I really enjoyed reading a new author to me. I can hardly wait to read more of him. This was exciting, nail biting, and sad.
  • First time reading Mike Grist book and will be continuing to read the entire series. The book was exciting and moved at a good pace. Don’t want to spoil it for anyone so suffice it to say I will be picking up the next book in the series. Excellent book.
  • I am a former SpecOps Operator. I am re-reading the Christopher Wren series, having read the Girl Zero series and awaiting the next installment.
  • Decent book – very easy to read – kept me engaged throughout – will definitely read more by this author.
  • I’m pleased to say it was excitement from the start to the end .
    Really well written story a d easy to follow. 10 out of 10
  • Fabulous book kept me enthralled . Even better than auld Reacher.
    Now on book 2 and will buy the rest very soon .

So that’s really gratifying – alongside zero purely negative reviews since the rewrite. I’m onto something, and seem to be keeping readers enthused about the next book and the rest of the series. I would love to see the overall review rating rise from 4.0 to 4.1 and higher, but that’ll take time. With around 5,000 reviews to make that average, I’ll need to sell a lot more and keep getting 5s to move the needle.

Fingers crossed. One small indication, which may easily be an outlier, is the review rating in Germany. I just had Saint Justice translated into German, and so far it’s got a 4.6 rating, but on only 3 reviews. It’s be amazing to keep a rating above 4.5, but lots of factors go into that, including the translation itself. But 4.6 suggests the translation is good. If it was crap, I’d never get that score.

Major spoilers follow.


I honestly thought this one would be easy. I did it around December 2023, right before finishing Wren book 10, Hammer of God, in Feb 2024. I’d already made changes to the original, prior to reworking Saint Justice.

BUT, I ended up changing way more than I expected. Here’s a change-log:


  • I mentioned this with Saint Justice. It used to be that Wren would set his hackers on the job, likely fall asleep while on a plane traveling somewhere, then wake up and they’ve done all the investigation and come up with a target. It’s a cop-out, unrealistic and gotta be unsatisfying to read. In No Mercy, the main instance is when Wren and Rogers get on a plane and head west without a clear idea where they’re going. Mid-flight, amongst a lot of other filler activity, they get their destination. Not great. Now, there’s a lot more on Wren’s investigation. He dives into the research, which gets a little procedural, but it affords some great moments of revelation – like as a string of deductive leaps leads him to the conclusion about who Clara Baxter really is. In the previous cut, he woke up and just had all this explained to him. OMG, Baxter is … . It’s pretty weak. Now we’re live in the moment and the revelation should slap.
  • A second instance of hacker magic happened when they got to the farm in Idaho. With only a couple of hours notice, and using only 2 gig worker operators, Wren’s hackers somehow conjured up a massive swarm of UAV drones that turn the tide in a battle against 20+ Pinocchios. This would’ve involved buying at least a hundred drones (from multiple shops?), transporting them to an extremely remote place that Wren is already racing to via jet and beating him there, unboxing them, linking them wirelessly then launching the perfectly on time to save Wren’s butt, then having them work as effective real-time ‘missiles’. It’s an incredible amount of unrealism. Just not possible – right alongside the ‘hacker’ ability of the Pinocchios to get 20+ armed men to the same remote farmhouse before Wren, when Wren is the first to crack the location and, again, is already on a jet en route. Just silly. So I cut all of it. No more Pinocchios at the farmhouse. No drone swarm. Just Wren and Rogers, with threat coming from elsewhere. A threat that feels far more real and visceral than the cool but comic book stuff I had before.
  • The third instance is the biggest, and relates to the overall power and goal of the Pinocchios. Originally, via some unexplained backdoor hack, they had the ability to blackmail the entire USA, so much so that the country will have to change its Constitution. This is happening independent of the murders that kick off Wren’s involvement, but is never explained nor directly investigated. It’s pretty out there, so now it’s gone. The Pinocchios have a much more modest goal now, much more achievable. This necessitated quite a lot of changes, so that it made sense.


  • A frequent piece of feedback was that readers were finding books 2, 3, 4 were starting to get a bit samey. There was definitely an element of that, not only in the number of times the Apex got mentioned, or the fact that each book ended on a semi-cliffhanger about the Apex’s true involvement. There was also this feeling that the bad guys were doing their plots primarily to please the Apex. This was borne out by them having as a primary motive the dissolution of America, and repeatedly basically giving up and burning themselves alive or surrendering in some other way at the end of each novel – somewhat robbing us of a climax but ensuring maximum psychological impact on Wren. This was samey, and I wanted to get away from it – give each villain their own reasons, along with a strong desire to win and survive.
  • I fixed Saint Justice by adding in more of a final fight with Richard Acker, with suicide only coming at the very last beat.
  • I fixed No Mercy by shifting the Pinocchios plot from total hacker blackmail to the desire to run their own sick ship in secret, plus strike back with terrorist killings of anti-Pinocchio forces. That was it. No government-level blackmail. They also put up more of a fight now at the end – previously Wren invaded Pleasure Island and that was that. It was over. But surely someone would mount an effective defense. Now they do, and Wren barely survives, while Girl Zero/Clara Baxter gets a better introduction, and gets to kick some ass in her own rescue.


  • PVE means Player Versus Environment, and I use it whenever I’ve got scenes with action that don’t link to the main threat and don’t really need to be there. It’s best gotten rid of and acts as stodgy filler. One of the biggest PVE moments comes on the plane west toward Idaho, an 8-chapter stretch of mostly nothing. Rather than having Wren do an investigation, I had him battling Humphreys to escape CIA control (now that it’s no longer a government blackmail situation, Humphreys has no reason to come after Wren anymore – now he backs him firmly, fixing another plot point, where people were just getting pissed off at Humphreys). Humphreys tried to take remote control of the plane, so Wren did some complex stuff to re-take control, but ultimately it was all unnecessary, so I binned it. This made room for an online search with revelations, and a creepier landing and approach to the Idaho farm. Also during that flight we had the death of Dr. Ferat, who was sort of acting as Wren’s go-between with the Foundation. But now the Foundation play a much smaller role, primarily his hackers doing the off-book work the CIA won’t, so there’s no reason for Dr. Ferat to die. It was weird anyway, as she was scarcely introduced in this book. Someone dies who we haven’t even seen on the page – we probably don’t feel anything. All gone now. No death. No involvement at all.
  • There’s also the mega scenes of Wren battling the Pinocchios at two different houses, one the perp’s, one the catfish boss. Those escalated pretty wildly and unrealistically. Now they’ve been dialled right back. No helicopters are getting shot down by shoulder-mounted RPGs. It’s a bit less cool, but the action doesn’t yank us out of any sense of realism.


  • This is an area I’m really proud of. Adding in more investigation was pretty tough, but constantly enriched the book. One scene involved tracking the Pinocchio van in Detroit. We ended up going to the blighted house where they tortured Tom Solent, and picking up some clue that led to the next step forward. Another was getting to the Idaho house, with Wren doing pattern recognition in a huge data set and picking out the threads he needed, culminating in a revelatory photograph of Clara Baxter and Lance Gebhart. Click, it’s a moment we never had in the original, at least not properly, and now it’s earned. Also, after the Idaho house and getting to Pleasure Island is spread out across more steps and clues now.

There’s probably lots more that I did, but those are the big ones. I also made Wren and Rogers’ relationship more friendly, pitching them closer to equals, and reduced how annoying Humphreys is.


I did this one Feb-March 2024, and thought it would be even easier than No Mercy. I’d already made some big changes before I even did Saint Justice, involving adding investigative steps (going to San Quentin to talk to the SAMs) and reducing unrealism. I thought I just needed to make a change or two to the beginning, like take out the helicopter completely from Wren’s effort to get into Theeravit’s dungeon house, and I’d be done.



  • Previously, the kind of entire middle of the book was taken up with Wren squabbling with his Foundation. He did Alaska, then did NameCheck, then San Quentin for the SAMs, then it was still hacker magic that led him to the Anti-Ca compound. On the way to the compound he still fell asleep and got transported to the strike location, still uses a drone fleet of driverless cars remotely controlled by Hellion, still has enlisted for him a ragtag group of wannabe commandos from the Foundation, none of whom have had any real training, and one of whom is there literally as a joke, because he’s a copier machine salesman. The tone of this whole long section is off. It’s kind of played for laughs, but just stretches on and on. When Wren and his driverless car brigade attacks the Anti-Ca compound, it has the feel of slapstick comedy. Like a bunch of clown cars with guys surfing on top of them shooting madly. Like a dumb video game. I always thought that was fun, but now I see it’s gonna turn people off who were taking the threat seriously. You can’t go in so half-cocked and expect us to care.
  • So, I changed everything here. No passing out, for starters. Wren has to go earn the Anti-Ca location with more investigative steps. This gives Sally Rogers a proper intro, along with the SEAL team she’s brought with her. Now Wren goes with the SEAL team and they do a proper raid with real vehicles. It’s serious, not silly.
  • In the previous cut, after the raid Wren spends like 8 chapters dealing with Foundation BS. They are mad at him for being immoral and stage an intervention. It’s all PVE boring stuff. Don’t they see the country is in the grips of a major terrorist incident, but still they think it’s time for an intervention? There’s also a second interrogation of the same target Wren already interrogated once, which is boring. The whole thing is kind of silly. Now it’s all gone. Wren ends up in hospital right alongside Sally Rogers, but with the next step waiting to be taken.


  • After gutting the PVE core of the book, I was down to probably 50,000 words. Very short, with big leaps of logic between set piece action scenes. I had to stitch it all back together somehow, and that involved more investigative scenes. First up, Wren, Rogers and Gruber go to Vegas, where they interrogate a playboy about his role in funding Anti-Ca – after being led here by the SAMs in San Quentin. After the Anti-Ca compound, there’s a big search for the arena, with another document-level pattern search by Wren, weeding out the person behind the Reparations. This fills her out massively, and leads us into her hugely improved motive and a whole different endgame:


  • Originally, Yumiko Harkness committed suicide in front of Wren in the arena, not for her own purposes, but to serve the Apex. He likes that kind of thing, and wanted to shock Wren. It makes her own motivation a joke and focuses us on the Apex again. Now that’s all changed – at best, she took the Apex’s money to fund her revenge, which is now personal and visceral and multi-pronged. Now there’s a new endgame, at the same house where her father committed suicide, strongly connected to Handel Quanse, where the billionaires will die in a whole new way. It’s cool and grew right out of Yumiko’s core motivation. To get the location, Wren has to interrogate Yumiko, while doing more document analysis, while she hangs from a winch in a Black Hawk 10,000 feet high. Then after the final deaths, there’s a kicker which twists everything around one more time. Her true goal.
  • After all that, we revisit Yumiko to ask about the Apex. She’s little help, but Wren races off to hunt any track he can. This makes sense. Rather than going to his family. He’s then arrested by Rogers in the midst of that hunt, setting us up for book 4.

It’s a whole different story from about a third of the way in. I think it’s much better. It actually puts us way more viscerally into Wren’s childhood trauma, and resolves an extra issue I’d had in the back of my mind for a long time, and both shoves the Apex into the background while making the hunt for him more pressing by the end. Nobody surrenders or gives up. There is no hacker magic or PVE left. It all feels taut and humming with tension to me.

Let’s hope the readers agree and readthrough climbs.

Oh, there’s one other factor I came up with in the last few days that probably really helps improve readthrough. It’s the issue of friendship. Always Wren was a loner, above everyone, using people as pawns or sacrificial lambs. But other books in the genre have their heroes have lots of old friends, tough guys who are equals, who have banter and good times together. It makes readers want to be with them.

I didn’t consciously add this in to the rewrites, as I hadn’t thought of it, but it did just happen naturally to some extent. Maybe not in book 1 so much, but in book 2 Wren gets along better with Sally Rogers, with more banter time. In book 3 he has more with her, some good ‘equal’ time with Gruber, and works great with a SEAL guy called Miller. They’re not exactly friends, but they work well together and have some fun doing it. I think it’s another step in the right direction. I’ll def add this more consciously in the future.

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