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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A Review of Puppet on a Chain

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 3, 2015

Puppet on a ChainPuppet on a Chain by Alistair MacLean

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Three stars or four? Three or four? How about three and a half?

This Alistair MacLean book is an odd one. It’s darker than his other books, and even creepy. It’s about Paul Sherman, a British Interpol agent, in Amsterdam looking for the source of drug trafficking into Britain. Aided by the Dutch police and by two good looking female assistants, he’s almost immediately thrown into the thick of things when the person he was coming to meet is gunned down at the airport in his sight. After that, he’s followed to and from his hotel throughout the novel.

It was amusing to see “cannabis” as the source of so much evil in this book, considering pot is now legal in several states. However, the main drug Sherman is after is heroin. And he finds it in the strangest of locations. One of my complaints about the book is, after years on the case — from afar — and after the Dutch have done nothing, in one to two days, Sherman finds the drugs, the source, the dealers, everything. It’s not very believable. In fact, the implausibility of the story is something I just don’t like about the novel. Sherman is constantly having his gun taken from him by the bad guys, who never kill him, thus giving him the opportunity to escape. He’s above the law, breaking numerous laws himself as he tries to find out what he’s after. The person we think to be the main dealer, Reverend Goodbody, has a whole town under his spell and willing to commit murder for him. Really? Then there’s the life-like female puppets hanging from a chain on top of a warehouse. It’s too much to take.

Additionally, Sherman isn’t very likeable. He lies constantly. He’s a sexist pig. (This book was written in the 1960s….) After treating his female assistants like annoying children the whole way through the book, at the very end, he all of a sudden wants to marry one of them. Say what? He’s so condescending. Prig. I wanted to like him. I wanted to be on his side. The bad guys were so bad, that I had to be on his side, but I think I secretly wanted him to die too. Terrible of me, I know.

This book is not the author’s worst, but it’s far from his best — very far. It is fast paced and entertaining, yes, but just not very believable, and that knocks it down a star for me. The sexism knocks it down another star. Three stars. Very cautiously recommended.

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A Review of Flight of the Condor

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 21, 2015

Flight Of The CondorFlight Of The Condor by Richard P. Henrick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a word: cheesy. In another word: dated. In yet another word: entertaining. This book, published in 1987, is about a nuclear showdown between the US and USSR. America has a satellite up at all times overseeing Russia and their nuclear threat. When that satellite goes bad, it falls to earth and another one replaces it. Only this time, it doesn’t. And one of the top Soviet generals takes notice. And decides he wants to take this opportunity to nuke the hell out of America while they can’t spot what is going on over there. The US tries to launch another satellite on a Trident missile, only it’s apparently shot down. They then decide to dust off the space shuttle, “Condor,” and launch it manually via that. Word gets through to a terrorist organization and to the Russians and they both send teams to dismantle things. Meanwhile, this book is about subs. Our heroes are on a diesel powered sub called the Razorback, shadowing a Russian nuclear sub. And they want to take it out. Yep, they want to start WW III by sinking a Russian nuclear sub. Brilliant. As one of the crewmen puts it toward the end of the book, “…why didn’t they blow away both vessels and be done with it. These were their waters. Another foreign nation had absolutely no business there. How much better it was to be safe now than sorry later.” So they sink a French sub, thinking it’s a Russian sub. With absolutely no ramifications. None.

There are a lot of discrepancies in the book. The dialogue is wooden, at times, and hardly believable. The situations are absurd. The feared Russian Spetsnaz are shown to be total pansies when the chips are down, thanks to American military police heroes. Uh huh. An oceanographer discovers an old college flame who’s now a paleontologist with students on a dig near Vandenberg air base. So they immediately start up where they dropped things off 15 years previously and the reader has to suffer through lines like, “…he slowly gave himself until all was given. A whimper passed her lips as this gift was received deep in the tight, warm recesses of her womb.” I’m not kidding. Worst sex scene ever. And there’s an earthquake in Alaska that causes a tsunami to hit northern California. I have yet to figure out how this added to the plot. The oceanographer and an engineer fear sabotage and try to warn the Air Force higher ups, who won’t listen, so when the Russians and terrorists are defeated and the shuttle makes it up and the satellite is launched, Russia backs down and the day is saved. Cheesy. Yet still somewhat entertaining. I wanted to put this book down and did a couple of times, but found myself drawn back to it every time, wanting to know what happened next. Not sure why. It’s poorly written, the plot is bad, the dialogue choppy, but I still kind of liked it. A guilty pleasure? Sorry. I can’t recommend it. But if you happen upon it in a used bookstore like I did and can get it for a buck, it’s probably worth it.

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A Review of The Guns of Navarone

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 13, 2015

The Guns of NavaroneThe Guns of Navarone by Alistair MacLean

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this novel, as many of MacLean’s books tend to be a bit “fluffy” for me, but I wasn’t disappointed with his efforts on this one. Of course, like many, I’d seen the film when I was a kid, but I’d only now picked up a copy of the book to read and I’m glad I did.

The setting is somewhere in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Turkey after Italy threw in the towel in WWII. The Germans control a series of islands and the shipping lanes through them, although I don’t know how historically accurate this would have been, because they do so through their feared air force, complete with hundreds of Stukas. I would have thought their air force would have been non-existent by then, but then I’m not a WWII scholar, so I’m willing to be wrong. Anyway, 1200 British troops are trapped on one of these islands and are awaiting rescue, but the problem is, it’s got to be by boat and that can’t be done because the mythical guns of Navarone rule the area, huge, monstrous guns protected by natural and man-made defenses, making it a virtual impregnable fortress. It’d be a suicide mission for anyone to attack it and yet, the British navy has to sail right by it within days to rescue these troops.

Enter Captain Keith Mallory. He is a famous New Zealander rock climber who has survived behind enemy lines for months at a time. He’s going to lead this little expedition. His close Greek friend and killing machine, Andrea, is coming along. So too, Stevens, good at linguistics and rock climbing, Brown, a saboteur, and Miller, a brash American who is a medic and a demolitions man. They have three days to scale the sheer 400 foot cliff walls on the southern side of Navarone, destroy the guns, and escape before the British navy arrives.

The climb nearly kills them. As luck would have it, a German spy back at HQ had alerted the Germans to their presence, so everyone’s looking for them everywhere, making it virtually impossible to go anywhere, get anything done. They do hook up with two resistance fighters and the reader spends the next few days in a frenzy with these men, anxiously trying to enter the fortress and destroy the guns and then escape. It’s a pretty exciting story.

This book reminded me a lot of Where Eagles Dare. In fact, it seemed like a complete rip off. I don’t know which was published first, probably this one, but there are a ton of similarities. The cold, the high altitudes, the climbing, the near inhuman strength our protagonists must display, the injuries and deaths our heroes encounter, the “elite” status of the German troops, the back stabbings and betrayals. Very similar. But they’re both still good books. I’d read each again. My primary complaint is in MacLean’s boilerplate formula for his protagonist heroes. They always seem to know the right things to do and say. They always seem to fight through exhaustion with superhuman strength and, indeed, have superhuman strength. And that just doesn’t seem too realistic to me. It makes them out to be more superhero than anything to me, but perhaps that’s just my viewpoint, I don’t know. Anyway, not a bad book. Now I want to see the movie again. Recommended.

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A Review of A Spy at Twilight

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 15, 2015

A Spy at TwilightA Spy at Twilight by Bryan Forbes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is little doubt that with the thriller, A Spy at Twilight, Bryan Forbes is trying to become a contemporary of Forsyth. Sadly, he fails. See, the secret to Forsyth’s success is his enormous dedication to research, details, and planning, as well as intricate story telling. Forbes shares none of these traits. He spins a decent yarn, yes, but not nearly as well as Forsyth.

In this book, a booby trapped corpse explodes when investigated by a couple of British cops, killing both, and setting off a massive investigation. England is “ruled” by a socialist prime minister who it’s hard to pin down and I attribute that to the author — the prime minister is clearly influenced by the head of the secret service — MI6 — who in this novel is called “Control,” which just seems so wrong. What seems even more wrong is the hero of all of the James Bond novels and countless Forsyth novels, “Control” is a Russian plant working to overthrow Britain for Russian rule. That’s literally unthinkable to me. And he seems, at times, to have the prime minister working alongside him, and at other times, the prime minister doesn’t seem to have a clue about what’s going on. It’s very confusing.

Another part of the plot involves a former British spy, Hillsden, who has defected to the Russians, who was forced to by the prime minister and Control and who now, just to survive, works for the GRU. And he’s bitter. He writes his memoirs and attempts to get them back to a colleague in Britain, but it only leads to various deaths.

Meanwhile, the protagonist, Waddington, is a former MI6 spy, now working for a security company who has been seduced by a mysterious rich hottie who is working for Control, although he of course doesn’t know it. And to my total shock, the author kills him off about 80% of the way through the book. So now what? Well, there are secondary characters who now take over, but it’s very confusing. You expect to make it through the whole book with the protagonist, don’t you? Generally? Perhaps it’s post-modern…. I didn’t like it though.

Another thing I didn’t like was small details like the following: the author several times referred to revolver “magazines.” Um, revolvers don’t have magazines. I know. I have one. I also have semiautomatic handguns. Those do have magazines. Get it right. The author is also extremely obsessed with AIDS. Now I know this book was published in the middle of the AIDS epidemic in 1989, so I can empathize, but come on. We get it. We are So.Very.Happy.You.Did.Not.Get.AIDS. God, go on and on about it, dude! Additionally, the terrorist known as “The Fat Boy” is not fat. He forces some type of cyanide pill down the throat of the woman who has seduced Waddington by kissing her, which seems a little unlikely. And Keating seems to good to be true, as spy turned movie producer turned good guy.

This isn’t really a bad book. It’s just not really a good one either. It could have done with some polishing, a little rewriting, some editing, some adjustments. That would have upped my rating to four stars. As it is, it’s three stars and uneasily recommended if you can’t find any other thrillers to read.

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