Sunday, December 20, 2009

“Pursuit of Honor”, by Vince Flynn (Simon & Schuster)


Rapp faces terrorists loose in the US, a CIA mole, and a hostile political climate

Pursuit of Honor picks up six days after the events that brought Extreme Measures to a close: A series of explosions has ripped through Washington, D.C., targeting the National Counterterrorism Center and other government officials – and, as a result of a particularly evil tactic, the attacks have killed almost 200 people, including public officials, CIA employees, and rescue workers. It was an act of considerable violence that calls for extreme measures in response from elite counterterrorism operative Mitch Rapp and his trusted team member and protégé, Mike Nash.

Now that the initial shock of the attack has passed, key Washington officials are up in arms over whether to go after the agents who put their lives on the line and stepped into the path of the enemy’s bullets, saving countless American lives, without any thought of potential legal consequences. Not for the first time, Rapp finds himself in the infuriating position of having to explain the realities of national security to career politicians whose comfortable view from the sidelines is inevitably obstructed and heavily influenced by their own parochial, electoral and media concerns. On top of this, someone is leaking secrets about CIA operations to the press and elected officials, both intent on making the most of their big scoops, and putting Rapp and his team in the spotlight – as scapegoats if possible – right in the middle of the “blood sport” that is D.C. politics.

Meanwhile, three of the al Qaeda terrorists responsible for the attacks in D.C. are still at large, holed up in an isolated part of Iowa. Rapp and his team have been unofficially ordered to find them by any means necessary. Cracks are opening in the relationship between the terrorists – one, a well-educated and –travelled man, other other a blinkered, rash zealot without a clue about the real world, having spent too much of his life being brainwashed in a Madrasah.

All is not well, however, when Rapp sees that Nash is cracking under the pressure of the mission, the memories of what he witnessed during the terrorist attack haunting him. To save his friend and calm the naysayers on Capitol Hill, he makes a decision to push Nash temporarily out of the main action; to get his head straight before it’s too late, and to protect his family life. Nash seems to have been brought into the series to serve as Rapp’s conscience or moderating influence – he’s younger, more idealistic, and certainly less of a loose cannon.

Pursuit of Honor has a slower start than previous Rapp novels. Rapp comes across as more introspective and perhaps even nostalgic, as he reminisces about his training and his murdered wife, Anna Reilly. Despite this change in pace, the author’s prose is still extremely tight, and coupled with the excellent plotting, make for an engrossing and relatively-quick read.

A recent article in The New Republic, “The Beck Supremacy”, was about Pursuit of Honor and political thrillers as a whole. The author argued that the genre had been ‘hijacked’ by the right. While it is clear that Flynn leans right, he does not do so in a way that alienates centrist or left-leaning readers. In fact, like the best in his genre, Flynn is able to make all sides of any argument that crops up in his novels sound pretty reasonable, avoiding any temptation to make his characters come across like buffoons or two-dimensional. Flynn is not quite as good at this as Kyle Mills, but it must be said that Mills has an exceptional talent for this.

[More on this can be found here.]

Flynn makes frequent reference to “the opportunists on Capitol Hill” who think the CIA is the “fascist wing of the American government”, but (justifiably) pulls no punches when taking a look at Congressional motives and methods, and his negative opinions of Capitol politics:

“this partisan game that everyone wants to play in Washington. Republican versus Democrat… liberal versus conservative… none of that matters… the only thing we’re supposed to concern ourselves with is national security.”

A political thriller as political thrillers should be, Pursuit of Honor is one of the best novels of the year. Timely, engaging, well-crafted, and believable, there’s little more we could ask of any thriller author.

Highly recommended for all fans of thrillers and political novels.

For Fans of: Kyle Mills, Christopher Reich, Joseph Finder, Tom Clancy, John Sandford, Daniel Silva, James Twining, James Patterson, Andrew Britton, Robert Ludlum, James Rollins, Matthew Reilly

(UK Cover : Released January 7th 2010)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

“The Associate”, by John Grisham (Arrow)

Grisham-TheAssociateBlackmail and Corporate Espionage in the Big Apple, and a law-grad in over his head

Kyle McAvoy is one of the outstanding legal students of his generation: good looking, a brilliant and driven legal mind, and a future of endless possibility ahead of him.

He also has a secret from his undergraduate days, a secret that resurfaces and threatens to destroy his fledgling career even before it’s begun.

Kyle is confronted with a compromising video of the incident that haunts him. The men who show it to him make it clear to Kyle that they now control his future - that he must do as they tell him, or the video will be made public.

Strangely, the price they ask of Kyle is to do exactly what any ambitious young lawyer would want to do: take a job as a legal associate at the largest law firm in New York – a job that is fantastically well paid and, with mammoth hours and outrageous billing, could lead to partnership and a fortune. The catch is that Kyle won't be working for the firm, but against it – passing on secrets of the company's biggest trial to date to his blackmailers. The case is a dispute between two defence contractors, the outcome worth billions of dollars to the victor.

Kyle is caught between the forces manipulating him and the FBI, who would love to unmask the conspiracy. Will his intellect, cunning and bravery (and new-found love of spy-novels) be enough to save himself?

I’ve been a fan of John Grisham’s novels ever since I picked up The Brethren in New York. I burned my way through as many Grisham novels as I could lay my hands on. Most were excellent, gripping and entertaining (The Partner, The Broker, Time to Kill, The Pelican Brief – to name but a few). The occasional one or two weren’t (The Street Lawyer I had difficulty getting into, for example).

The Associate falls somewhere in the middle. Grisham’s writing is still superb, but this novel seriously falls down with the initial blackmail. The ‘evidence’ his blackmailers present Kyle with doesn’t implicate him at all. They even say so! The fact that Kyle agrees to do their bidding was ridiculous, and coloured my opinion of the book for quite a few more chapters. Such a clunky plot device from Grisham is especially disappointing.

After Kyle actually joins the firm in New York (which doesn’t happen that quickly), the novel improves a good deal, as our protagonist starts to think of ways to save himself. The interaction between Kyle and his handler is certainly interesting, as we get to see both sides of the bluffing – each thinks he has the upper hand by knowing something the other doesn’t, but it’s never entirely clear who really is in a better position.

A slower plot to unfold, and with a big problem at the beginning, The Associate is, nevertheless, a good read, and I found myself burning through the pages at a considerable rate, often reading well into the night and wee hours of the morning. There’s plenty of commentary on US legal practice and the life of law-graduates and the hellacious grind they’re put through upon taking a position at one of the mega-firms. The ending was sign-posted quite early on, and was a little obvious, but it’s still a good finish.

Not his best, but certainly still better than a lot of stuff out there. If you love Grisham already, you’ll certainly love this, reminiscent as it is of The Firm (in some ways, anyway).

Friday, December 11, 2009

Couple of Exciting Things That Arrived in the Post Today…

Mieville-TheCity&TheCityPBUKTwo interesting books arrived today in the post, both from Pan Macmillan. The first is the paperback of China Mieville’s The City & The City (left), which means I can finally get around to reading it myself (Emma has the hardback and should be getting me a review ASAP, so we’ll do a double if possible).

The second parcel that came in the post is something I had never even heard of. To begin with, it didn’t even look like a book at first. After tearing open the jiffy bag with the enthusiasm of a small child on Christmas day who’d just discovered coffee, this is what I found:

11122009176So far, so confused. I delved deeper into this shiny tin box…

11122009177Ah, now this is very interesting. Certainly one of the more interesting promotional items I’ve ever received. It’s the first book in Sam Fisher’s new action/adventure series, E Force. It’s described as “"Mainstream super hero action adventure with the appeal of Heroes, The X-Men and GI Joe.” So far, so very interesting.

I’ve got a couple of books now in this sort of genre (i.e. books described as being akin to X-Men), so I shall review them together – this one (State of Emergency) and also Ben Horton’s Monster Republic (Corgi):



Sunday, December 06, 2009

Coming Up in 2010…

Just an excuse for some more cover artwork on the site (and because I’m being painfully slow with reviewing of late), here’s a short list of fiction, sci-fi and fantasy titles that are hotly anticipated for next year (I’ll do a couple more posts like this as cover art becomes available ):



Buchanan-Farlander Butcher-5-PrincepsFury


Lynch-RepublicOfThieves Various-WarriorsUS Lachlan-Wolfsangel

Just a small selection, more to come. Hopefully complete with reviews, too.

Brent Weeks Returns (Well, Soon-ish)

Brent Weeks stormed onto the fantasy market last year with his Night Angel Trilogy (reviews here and here), which were in our top-ten best novels of 2008. So, this released cover image of his next book (perhaps tentative) is very exciting, if samey:Weeks-BlackPrism

Saturday, December 05, 2009

“Elfslayer”, by Nathan Long (Black Library)


The latest adventure from the Black Library’s oldest duo

Trollslayer Gotrek Gurnisson and his human companion Felix Jaegar reluctantly travel to the port city of Marienburg to fulfil a last request from Felix's dying father, hoping to save the reputation of the Jaegar family name. However, a chance meeting with their old acquaintance Max Schreiber (who was a recurring character earlier in the series, and a rival for another recurring character, Ulrika’s attentions) knocks them well off course, after an initial, disastrous attempt to fulfil their supposedly simple task.

Max, the Imperial wizard has been sent by his college to investigate some disturbing magical phenomena off the northern coast of the Empire. Bringing along with him an impressionable seeress, who immediately becomes infatuated with Felix (who doesn’t want her attentions, and keeps finding himself in situations resulting in a reprimand from Max).

Pretty soon, the heroic duo and their companions find themselves caught up in a deadly situation, with seemingly no escape. As enemies old and new keep cropping up, Felix and Gotrek face their latest, perhaps greatest adventure.

When the novel opens, Gotrek has descended further into an alcoholic slump, and Felix is spinning his heels, waiting for something to happen. It’s amazing how quickly one gets back into the swing of the series, familiarising ourselves again with the characters almost instantly. It’s a bit of a slow start, and it takes a long while for the elves to actually show up, but the novel takes some interesting twists and turns, and Nathan Long’s writing is solid throughout. There’s a little more delving into Gotrek and Felix themselves and how they’ve managed to survive so long, with barely any evidence of time affecting them. The jokes and quips are still amusing, adding a lightness to the novel that makes it all the more enjoyable.

It took me a long time to work my way through the novel, because of a number of unavoidable distractions, so it’s possible that I could have enjoyed it a great deal more had I had the freedom to just sit down and read it.

If you are a fan of the series, or Warhammer as a whole, then you should certainly enjoy this novel. The next in the series, Shamanslayer is already out, too, so you won’t need to wait at all for your next fix.

A solid addition to the series.