OVERKILL by Robert Buettner (2010 Baen Books / 402 pp / mmp)
Fresh off his five-novel "Orphanage" series, Buettner returned in 2010 with a new series that takes place some time afterwards (there's mention here of a visit to a museum that commemortates the Psuedopod wars of those novels). I waited a while for this 2010 release to come to mass market paperback, and the wait was well worth it (in fact, I should've just sprung for the trade edition).
As a child, Jazen Parker was born on a planet where births have been outlawed. Raised by a go-between woman, she raises him and eventually enlists him as a soldier. Now at 23 years of age, he's a hero veteran of a brutal tank war, and is now in hiding over his illegal birth. Enter Cutler, a sleazy capitalist who hires Parker and a sexy but lethal earthling named Kit to help him track down and capture a grezzen, one of the deadliest animals in the universe. They live on a desloate planet where humans have built two small cities, and the chances of them capturing a grezzen (and not being eaten by some of the other wildlife) is slim to none.
After they manage to capture a female grezzen, Cutler double crosses Parker, Kit, and Zhondro, a one-time enemy of Parker who now works with them. Cutler manages to get the grezzen back to base, figuring his human helpers will be killed. But the son of the captured grezzen (who can communicate with the humans) discovers what's going on, and latently helps them get back to base so he can find his mother and take revenge on Cutler.
While I was expecting a military sci-fi story here, OVERKILL turned out to be a KING KONG-like monster story set in deep space, and ending back on earth. There's some scenes of Parker's time in the tank war, but most of the novel deals with the grezzen's psychic interacting with the humans and Cutler attempting to exploit this power. I can't remember the last time an author made readers care so much for a hideous beast (a grezzen is a huge creature weighing 11 tons, has 3 eyes, 6 legs, and is covered in muscle and hair) and I'm hoping we see more of him in UNDERCURRENTS, the second novel in the series that will be out in mass market this July (although I'm tempted to grab a trade edition right now).
I'm looking forward to the next titles in this series as Buettner has again created a group of characters that are every bit as engrossing as those in his Jason Wander ORPHANGE saga...the creatures here even more so. The 99 short chapters and tight prose make the pages fly by. Great stuff and must reading for monster fans.