hankrules2011

A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Posts Tagged ‘thriller’

A Review of Coercion

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 26, 2016

CoercionCoercion by Tim Tigner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Coercion is a very good spy/thriller set in 1990 during the Gorbachev/Perestroika Russian years. “Knyaz” is a super secret organization within the KGB that wants to gain control by ridding the country of Gorbachev and giving Russia its own version of Perestroika. With Vasily Karpov, a KGB General, as its primary leader (and his son, Victor, as another), Knyaz gains control over those who can help them attain their goal. They infiltrate American industry to gain advantages over it and surpass it in international economic competition. After all, this is where the new wars are being fought.

And this is where the Knyaz secret weapon comes in – the Peitho Pill. When injected into someone’s body (typically, the buttocks), the Peitho Pill is harmless by itself, but it can be remotely triggered, causing it to release its poison and instantly kill the target. People can live for years with this time-bomb implanted, leaving their loved ones living under total control of Knyaz. They know that if they do not do as they are told, their loved one will die. Corporate sabotage and industrial espionage are the standard for the relatives of those implanted with the Peitho Pill. It’s all about complete control and it’s disconcerting for everyone. It’s truly one of the more original and evil weapons I’ve come across in all of my years of reading thriller novels.

Alex and Frank Ferris are brothers, actually twins. Alex, the book’s protagonist, is a former US intelligence “agent” (aka spook) and Green Beret. Frank is a genius-level scientist who is working on a specific airplane engine that keeps being sabotaged. When Frank apparently commits suicide, Alex starts investigating his brother’s death. It doesn’t seem quite “right,” somehow. His investigations take him on a trip around the world to Siberia where he becomes very quickly acquainted with the Peitho Pill and Knyaz. Also, while in the US, we meet Karpov’s son, Victor, a man we quickly learn to love to hate. Turns out Alex has known Victor for a long while, but under an assumed American name. Victor is definitely not what and who he appears to be. But then, few are in this novel.

Most of the action takes place in Siberia and, let me tell you, the action is hot, even though the weather might be cold! Alex may have BEEN a Green Beret, but he apparently hasn’t lost his skills and his Knyaz “friends” have badly underestimated him. Alex will come face to face with Karpov, but Alex has an ace up his sleeve, and it’s a big one.

Some complaints though. First of all, I found the book slightly confusing at first and a little hard to get into. It took me awhile to just get into the book. However, after I basically forced myself to read through the first several chapters, it picked up and at that point, I couldn’t put the book down. It was that good. It was fast paced, was full of intrigue and tension, and had a lot of action. Another complaint, however, is that Alex seems to benefit from a lot of, well, good luck, excluding his torture scene by Karpov. He’s saved in the plane, he kills the Knyaz assassin pretty handily, he meets the one woman in town who is connected to Frank’s death and is also connected to Karpov, whom Alex ultimately is looking for. He gets into the right places pretty easily. Things seem to come to him so easily. Maybe that’s what happens when you’re an ex-spook, I don’t know. It just seemed really convenient and just a little contrived. However, the story was so good, I was willing to overlook all of these perceived flaws.

Coercion is a very good spy/thriller. I enjoyed it very much. What’s keeping it from being a five star book? Well, I guess it’s the aforementioned too many coincidences that tend to distract from rather than enhance the story. Also, the beginning of the novel could have been improved upon. Better editing, suggesting a fresher rewrite of the first few chapters, perhaps? Alex is a really good character. I kept thinking Jason Bourne. Not Bond, Bourne. I liked him. I’d like to read more books with him, but at the same time, I’m not sure making a series featuring him is a great idea. Too many authors are creating series’ these days featuring great characters and are having to make up impossible scenarios that don’t seem remotely realistic. I don’t want to see that happen to this character (not that this seemed realistic). All in all, four strong stars and definitely recommended.

View all my reviews

Posted in Publishing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Review of Avenger

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 19, 2015

AvengerAvenger by Frederick Forsyth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book. It was a great read. I read over some reviews when I finished it and was gratified to see a lot of people agreed with me, but I found two one star reviews, both of which admitted this was the first time they’d read Forsyth. Their main complaint seemed to be all of the “history” that Forsyth wrote about and forced us to read before the action started. One of them said this was the “lamest” book ever. Um, insanity! Nuts! If you knew anything about the author, you’d know that he always spends the first halves of his books building up the back story before proceeding to the action. That’s his thing. It’s attention to detail and it’s masterful. It’s what draws a lot of people to him. This book does have a lot of “history” and planning and detail, but it’s all essential to the entire story and the story is good. In fact, it’s incredibly exciting. I couldn’t put the book down over the final 100 pages. I had to see what would happen.

It’s 1995, and a nice young man — college age — leaves North America to go to war torn Bosnia to help out aid services for the summer. Where he is brutally killed by a group of para-military Serbs, led by Serb butcher Zoran Zilic. The boy’s grandfather, in Canada, a very wealthy individual, hires a private detective to go look for him. He’s pretty good and he eventually finds out that Ricky is undoubtedly dead, but he couldn’t nail down the perpetrator. He had his suspicions and found one of the soldiers in Belgrade, who he couldn’t get to confess, but with whom he left his card in case he ever wanted to. Fast forward to 2001. This soldier had a conscious and decided to confess. This confession made its way to the detective and then to the Canadian millionaire. And he wanted his revenge.

Meanwhile, there’s attorney Cal Dexter. He’s a Vietnam vet, where he was a “Tunnel Rat,” an unsung hero of a man who went into heavily booby trapped Viet Cong tunnels to raid their quarters and to assassinate as many as possible. He was very good. Now he’s much older, but he trains for triathlons on a regular basis and is in fantastic shape. He practices in a small New Jersey town, but keeps an apartment in New York City where he can operate out of for his side business by which he goes by the name of Avenger. He’s a mercenary. I know it sounds a little bizarre and it is, but just go with it. The only means of communicating with the Avenger is by placing ads in a small airplane magazine and one day he sees an ad asking for him to contact someone with no price ceiling for their job. He does. It’s the grandfather.

Meanwhile, the grandfather had also talked to some politicians who had taken the case of Zoran Zilic up with the Feds, notably the FBI and CIA. One of the FBI higher ups was aghast at what Zilic had done and wanted to get him. He had a talk with CIA agent Paul Devereux and found out that Devereux seemed to know where Zilic had disappeared to after the Bosnian war was over, but he wouldn’t give him up. This really ticked the FBI guy off and they parted ways unamicably. Devereux knew exactly where Zilic was. He was working for him. For two years, Devereux had been working on a way to get to bin Laden and Zilic was going to be his way in, carrying nuclear materials to sell to bin Laden only to blow bin Laden away with a drone via GPS when he reached him. So where was Zilic? Living on a heavily guarded estate in a small central American country called San Marino. And the Avenger had to find him and snatch him.

Dexter did some digging, made some assumptions, thought some thoughts and came up with some information. He basically came up with San Marino. He went and hired a private plane to fly over, where he spotted the huge fortified estate and took tons of photos from the plane. But he was spotted. Add that to the fact that he placed a call that was deemed suspicious to some people, and some people were on the phone to Devereux telling him that someone was after Zilic. He couldn’t believe it. He was so close to getting bin Laden. He had to stop this person, find him and stop him asap. So he started looking for him, first by getting the details on the plane. He found the pilot had been killed, presumably by Zilac’s men. He kept searching. Meanwhile Dexter was looking at pictures. He was impressed. The mansion was surrounded by a huge wall that was patrolled by numerous armed guards. On three sides, it was surrounded by cliffs beside the ocean. It’s only entrance was up high on a road from a slave labor camp owned by Zilic where some 1200 Hispanic men toiled on a self sustaining farm, next to a private air field. All surrounded by numerous fences and gates. There were hungry dobermans patrolling at night. As he found out later, in the water by the mansion, there were tons of sharks. In the river providing water to the estate, there were piranha. There were also spikes in the river. There were about 100 armed guards. It was a fortress. How was one man going to get in there, grab Zilic, and get out?

Dexter made his preparations. He bought supplies, got fake passports, while Devereux found out about the Avenger and went after him. But Dexter was always one step ahead of him. He went down to San Marino and had a hard time getting in, crashed the gate, left with the authorities looking for him, and returned later with a different passport. He rented a car and then left it to go hiking off into the jungle toward the estate. Word got to the CIA that the Avenger had penetrated San Marino and Devereux couldn’t believe it. Dexter had faked his own death with his first attempt and it had bought him some time, so the San Marino army was ticked and started looking for him everywhere while Devereux sent his second in command there to take charge and take care of Zilic. He was worried Zilic would not go after bin Laden if he found out a mercenary was after him and the CIA couldn’t get him.

So does Dexter do it? Well, you know he must, right? But how? I’m not going to tell you. You’re going to have to read the book yourself. It’s pretty damn amazing though. Even with Zilic finally finding out about Dexter and the dogs being loosed and all of the guards being stationed everywhere, is it possible Dexter still finds a way? It’s completely crazy. When everything’s over, Dexter winds up back in the US and calls the man in Canada. But it’s the final page of the book that’s stunning and makes it worth the price of the book alone. I won’t spoil it for you. The reason why I’m not giving this book five stars and am giving it only four is because Forsyth leaves so many things to chance that Dexter gets right. It’s just not very realistic. How would he know the man he kidnaps would be working that day? How would he know the guards would go for those small bombs? How would he know they’d go for the airplane? That seems like the unlikeliest assumption to me. How did he know a lot of things? How did he know to always stay one step ahead of the CIA, especially when he didn’t even know the CIA was tracking him? It’s just not that realistic. But it makes for a fantastic story. If you can get past the realism aspect of it, it’s a fun ride. I definitely recommend this book.

View all my reviews

Posted in Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

A Review of Vertical Run

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 9, 2015

Vertical RunVertical Run by Joseph R. Garber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was one of the best thrillers I have ever read! It was a real page turner. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next. I can’t say that about a lot of “thrillers” I read. And to think I got it for only a nickel at a used bookstore.

One morning, Dave Elliot is in his office and his boss, the company president, walks in. With a gun. To shoot Dave. Dave’s old (he’s 47) special forces training kicks in and he knocks out the man and takes his gun. What is happening? He leaves his office only to run into a couple of bulky men with obvious shoulder holsters under their jackets. A shootout ensues. Dave escapes. He goes up several floors from his 45th floor office in New York City to see his best friend and lawyer, who tries to kill him. He escapes. What the hell is going on? The next thing you know Dave is running for his life from all kinds of burly men with guns and a psychopath leader of the group who communicates to Dave via a radio of some sort that Dave has taken from one of the men he took out. He decides to call a TV station to call in a bomb threat so the cops will come and everyone will evacuate the building. He’ll escape in the chaos. He reaches the first floor and there are lots of men with guns down there. All of a sudden he hears someone scream that they see him, go get him. He turns and sees his wife standing with these men. It’s crazy! Dave does eventually get out, and goes to a lab he had gone to the day before for a tour where something odd had happened. When he gets there, the building is empty. He decides to return to the office tower — where the men with guns are — to look at this company’s file in his boss’s desk. He has to know what’s going on and why. He gets back in the building and finds dozens of men waiting for him. What he does next is genius. What he finds out is shocking. The twist at the end of the book is brilliant. The last couple of pages provide a good climax to the story. It’s a very satisfying book and I’ll probably reread it several times. Definitely recommended.

View all my reviews

Posted in Writing | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Review of Spy Hook

Posted by Scott Holstad on July 1, 2015

Spy Hook (Bernard Samson, #4)Spy Hook by Len Deighton

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

THIS BOOK IS A FRAUD! THIS BOOK IS A JOKE! THIS BOOK IS AN OUTRAGE! Whew. Okay. Breathe.

This was my first Len Deighton book after having heard about him for years. I knew he wrote spy books. I thought they might be like MaClean or Forsyth books. I was dead wrong. This wasn’t a spy book. It was a mystery, and not a very good one. Additionally, this was the fourth book in what very well might be a nine book series, and it’s not much of a stand alone novel, so that hurts it.

In this book, Bernard Sampson is a “spy” working for the “Service” who has a buddy who has moved to America who confides in him that there are some funds no one knows about in the Service that are missing and wonders if Sampson’s wife, who has defected to the KGB, has something to do with it. Days later, Sampson is told this man has been murdered, which turns out to be false. Sampson’s curiosity is piqued, so he asks a few questions and before you know it, everyone he talks to is telling him to shut the F*** up and mind his own damn business, even old, trusted friends he’s known for years. He’s even sent out to L.A. where he’s to be given instructions, is picked up at LAX, driven to a compound and is reunited with an old friend he thought was dead, but is obviously not. This guy gives him the same line. On the way back to the airport, the CIA picks him up and gives him the same line. What the hell is going on? He goes to visit an old family friend in the English countryside who tells him the same thing and who makes him promise not to go visit his new hot girlfriend’s unstable uncle, which he immediately does, and who tries to kill him. He’s saved by a friend. He goes to the director of the Service and spills all, thinking this will solve things. He’s then sent to Berlin, where, as he and a friend are getting off the plane, he spots MPs waiting — for him. The director has set him up. His friend claims to be him and is dragged off so he can escape and he goes to East Germany, returns, goes to an old Service friend’s house, confronts him about the money, his wife, his friend, everything, is given some money and sent on his way and leaves. End of story. AND THAT’S IT!!! NO QUESTIONS ANSWERED. NO RESOLUTION. NOT EVEN ANY REAL ACTION. WTF??? What kind of spy story is this? This is pathetic. And Deighton has this annoying manner of presenting his characters as clowns, jokes, with sad attempts at humor. It’s bad writing. And Sampson is grouchy and a real asshole to everyone he meets, except his 22 year old girlfriend, whom he adores. I mean, you can’t like this guy. I was rooting for him to get shot. Nothing happens in this book and I read this criticism on a lot of reviews, apparently because the author uses this book to set up the next book in the series. But I’ll be damned if I’m supposed to buy a book just to buy another! That sucks! That’s marketing, not authorship. The irony is, I did buy the sequel when I bought this and I started reading it immediately to find out what the hell happens to this jerk, but if I don’t get some resolution out of this book, I’m writing this author off permanently and burning both books. I already hate the guy. What a schmuck. Definitely not recommended — at all. Under any circumstance.

View all my reviews

Posted in Writing | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Review of The Last Man Out of Saigon

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 24, 2015

The Last Man Out Of Saigon: A NovelThe Last Man Out Of Saigon: A Novel by Chris Mullin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an interesting novel to read. You see, it’s deeply anti-American and pro-Vietnamese and I think it would have helped to know these facts before delving into it, as it’s about a CIA agent inserted into South Vietnam three days before the fall of Saigon. You would think it would be a CIA thriller. It’s not. If you’re a die hard American “patriot,” you’ll probably be offended by the book. If, however, you can disassociate yourself from the politics and just enjoy the book for what it is, it’s not a bad book.

A CIA agent, MacShane, who’s never been to Vietnam and who’s worked in Bolivia and Brazil, as well as possibly Chile, doing some underhanded stuff there for the CIA, is sent to Vietnam as it’s about to fall to the NVA, for the purpose of spying on the Vietnamese and possibly destabilizing their new government, as well as establishing contacts and building resistance. It sounds unlikely, but if you can get past that, then you’re into the book. He arrives, Saigon falls, he stays, pretending to be a journalist. But his cover is blown and he is captured. And you immediately think, oh no, because everyone’s heard of the North Vietnamese atrocities. But he’s treated well. He’s surprised. He’s interrogated, yes, but it’s not bad and he’s not tortured and he’s given decent food and cigarettes and is allowed to exercise and wander the grounds. After awhile, he’s transported to Hanoi, where he’s taken to the Hanoi Hilton, although it’s not referred to as such in this book. Again, he’s treated well. It’s been decided that he’s going to be “re-educated,” so a professor comes to interact with him every day and they converse about all sorts of things. And he starts questioning his country’s action and intents. Everywhere he sees bomb damage, but happy people going about their business. Everyone he meets has lost relatives in the war and are possibly scarred, but they all treat him well.

After a couple of months of this, he’s told he’s going to be taken out into the countryside to work in a labor camp. He panics. He decides to escape. Security is lax, so he does and escapes to the Red Cross in a hotel, who are assholes to him. Still, he spends the night with them, determined to go to the British Embassy the next morning for aid. And he does, but it’s closed. And he’s recaptured. And the military is pissed! He’s embarrassed them. After all of their good will. He’s taken to a tougher jail, but after about 10 days is taken a couple hours out of the city to a village where he will live and labor in the fields with the peasants. He knows virtually no Vietnamese and they know no English. Fortunately, there’s a school teacher in the next village who knows some English, so she becomes his interpreter and teacher. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s lovely. Turns out her entire family, as well as her fiance, were all killed by the US. Bombs fell everywhere. It’s made pretty clear in this book that the Vietnamese aren’t the ones committing torture, the US/CIA is. The Vietnamese aren’t the ones bombing villages, the US is. The US government commits murder, yet the Vietnamese people love the American people, with whom they have no argument. Sounds like a type of utopia, doesn’t it? MacShane begins to really enjoy farming with these people, who accept them as one of their own, and he falls in love with Ha, the school teacher, who falls in love with him. She knows the US will come get him some time, but he wants to stay there and marry her and be a farmer. She won’t hear of it. So his former boss, the asshole who betrayed him to the NVA, comes to Vietnam to rescue him and MacShane confronts him with his evidence. The official tries to cover up, but off they go into the sunset, back to America, leaving MacShane’s heart back in Vietnam forever.

Ah, romance. Seriously, a little iffy there. I did some Googling of the author. Turns out he’s a British left wing Labour Party politician who’s written several books, at least one of which has been turned into a movie. He’s so left wing, he scares his left wing colleagues. And his wife is Vietnamese. So I guess it should come as little surprise that he’s rabidly anti-American and pro-Vietnamese in this book. My “patriotic” inclination is to not like that, but since I’m feeling royally unpatriotic these days with all of these crazed Republican assholes running around like nutjobs claiming to be patriotic, maybe I’ll side with him. After all, I think we shouldn’t have been in Vietnam to begin with. It was a civil war and one we had no business intruding in. And as many atrocities as the North Vietnamese committed, and yes there were many, I’m sure the US committed their own as well. So, would I recommend this book? I’m not sure. Perhaps. But with the caveat that you go in with the foreknowledge that you know what you’re getting yourself into. If you do that, it’s an interesting book. Although, frankly, it’s not much of a thriller. Very little action. Not much at all. In fact, I’m not sure why I’m even giving it three stars. I guess because it was pretty original. Otherwise, two. Very, very cautiously recommended then.

View all my reviews

Posted in Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

A Review of Alistair MacLean’s Death Train

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 13, 2015

Alistair MacLean's Death TrainAlistair MacLean’s Death Train by Alastair MacNeill

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Bad. Stupid. Dumb. Poorly conceived and poorly written. It started off rather clumsily, but I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and continue. And at times I was glad I did. At other times, I wanted to chew my own head off. I can’t believe I finished this trash. Alistair MacLean was a master. Alastair MacNeill is an imbecile. I don’t know how much of the book MacLean had written at the time of his death, but I’m willing to bet MacNeill wrote about 95%+ of this. MacLean couldn’t possibly have written such junk.

It’s a new world calling for new types of security, a type involving world cooperation. Thus, UNACO is born. The United Nations Anti-Crime Agency is known only at the top levels of the United Nations and has unlimited powers and funding and it pulls in its agents from the top intelligence agencies around the world.

Enter George, Sabrina, and CW. These are our heroes. They’re sent to Europe to look for six kegs allegedly containing weapons grade plutonium on a train. They’re to find the kegs, and find out who’s behind this nefarious plot. CW goes to Germany where it seems the plutonium originated from. He poses as a journalist and is met by the PR director of a big nuclear plant who is, of course, hot and who blows his cover on day one. But oh no — she’s trapped and in trouble and her office is bugged! She needs saving. Someone follows them and attacks her. Someone is after CW. What will happen?

Meanwhile Sabrina and George get on the train. George is a gruff asshole who hates Sabrina because she’s a rich, hottie princess who, he thinks, got the job through her father. However, she’s the best shot in UNACO and that’s how she got the job, and she’s a sweetie who we all fall in love with. Sickened yet? On the train, George meets someone who has constructed a game that he agrees to play. It involves putting your hand in constraints that contain electrical voltage and putting your hand on the board, the voltage increases and the first person to move their hand away loses. How stupid is that? So Sabrina sees an old ex of hers who’s a world renown billionaire on the train with some losers and starts talking to them. One of the losers is an assassin and tells this rich guy that this was the woman who killed one of his henchmen earlier. So they plan to snatch her. And they do. And she gets arrested and thrown into a Swiss jail, where she’s booked on a murder charge. And UNACO gets her off and puts her on the train again, via helicopter. George has been joined by a Russian KGB agent working for UNACO dressed as a priest and soon they’re joined by Sabrina, who’s dressed as a nun. Forgive me if my memory falters, but I think George and Sabrina are captured once again and escape once again and are put on the train once again. But I could be wrong.

Meanwhile, CW is making headway in Germany. The head of product testing is trying to kill him and CW confronts him and he’s taken into custody. Pleased that things are working out so well there, he’s prepared to leave to go back to NYC when he gets a frantic call from the PR lady with a man telling him to go to the nuclear plant immediately, so he does. When he gets there, he’s disarmed and taken to a place in the plant with a large pool of water, where he’s taken up a ladder onto a catwalk. Only to be met by the PR woman with his gun pointed at him. Huge.Shock. Never saw that coming. Yeah. He kills her. Spoiler, sorry.

The train makes it to Italy, but the car carrying the kegs is missing and so are the bad guys. Turns out they’re headed for Libya, by way of another African country. George and Sabrina take off, Berretas in hand. This author really should be a salesman for Berreta. They’re taken to the rich guy’s plant by helicopter, disable a guard, go in a warehouse and see the bad guys. They’ve been instructed to assassinate them. As Sabrina gets ready to go for the kill shot, she hears something and discovers it’s a rat. So the poor, stupid, pathetic girl shrieks and falls to the floor, dropping her gun, resulting in the bad guys shooting at them and capturing them once again. *shakes head* So they’re going to be killed, right? How? George is going to put his hand back in that game and play a death match with one of their men, who has never lost. So how will Sabrina die? We’re never told. While George is struggling with his pain, Sabrina is cutting her bonds loose with broken glass and then frees George. A guard comes back and announces he’s to kill them and George twists his neck and kills him. Just like that. Easy as pie. And so the chase continues. The rich guy has the detonator for the plutonium. He presses it as they’re killing him, spoiler — sorry — and nothing happens. All the bad guys get killed, the good guys win, they go back to NYC to celebrate, George asks Sabrina out on a date and the KGB chief in charge of all of this is placed under arrest, but apparently chooses to kill himself first. Book over.

There are so many stereotypes. And so many foreshadowed moments you just see coming. And so little character development. And such a stupid plot. And UNACO is all powerful. Must be nice, right? This will undoubtedly be the only Alastair MacNeill book I read. Definitely not recommended.

View all my reviews

Posted in Writing | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »