Wednesday, November 24, 2010

“The Lion”, by Nelson DeMille (Sphere)

LionThe_R.indd John Corey returns to hunt down a long-time foe

John Corey, former NYPD homicide detective and now a special agent for the Anti-Terrorist Task Force, is back. Unfortunately for Corey, so is Asad Khalil, the notorious Libyan terrorist otherwise known as “The Lion”.

When last we heard from him, Khalil had claimed to be defecting to the U.S. only to unleash the most horrific reign of terror ever to occur on American soil. While Corey and his partner, FBI agent Kate Mayfield, pursued him across the country, Khalil methodically eliminated his victims one by one and then disappeared without a trace.

Now, three years later, Khalil has returned to America to make good on his threats and take care of unfinished business. The Lion is a killing machine once again loose in America with a mission of revenge, and John Corey will stop at nothing to achieve his own goal – to find and kill Khalil.

It’s been a while since I read the previous John Corey thrillers (which I read all in one go), and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the protagonist’s return. It’s a decade since The Lion’s Game was published, but only a year-and-a-half has passed in this series’ timeline. (This locates the story in between Night Fall, which ended with 9/11, and Wild Fire.)

All of DeMille’s novels I have read thus far have been superb. They are gripping, thought-provoking, timely (if not prescient), and entertaining. His characters are well-rounded, quirky, entirely realistic, the action is exciting, and his plots are believable and expertly crafted. So, as you can imagine, I came to The Lion with very high hopes indeed…

After a slightly slow start, as DeMille gets readers comfortable with the setting and characters again, the pace and progression of the plot pick up and have the comfortable feel that his previous Corey novels had. The Lion is set very soon after the events of 9/11: emotions are still raw, and law enforcement is angry, on high-alert, and looking for payback (by Corey’s own admission).

Demille is one of the few authors to successfully and skilfully make the transition from writing Cold War novels to War on Terror novels, while maintaining high levels of quality. In a genre of thriller that is becoming over-saturated with FOX-News-ready novels, DeMille certainly, easily stands out as one of the better authors writing today,

DeMille’s characters are well-rounded and well-realised on the page. That being said, despite my familiarity with John Corey’s less orthodox, politically incorrect style, I found him to be a little annoying at times (certainly in the first few chapters, which could be a huge obstacle to new readers). His sarcasm and ‘man’s man’ persona are laid on a little too thickly in the first couple of chapters, which really turned me off. He came across as crass, rather than cynical, and slightly misogynistic. It’s been a while since DeMille wrote the previous Corey novel (Wild Fire, which I thought was excellent), and perhaps one of the problems with the characterisation of our protagonist is that DeMille maybe had quite a few years’ worth of material and ‘jokes’ that he really wanted to include. This came across over-done and made Corey slightly obnoxious, and therefore difficult to connect with. The rest of the cast are, on the other hand, pretty ‘standard’ (in a good way) for this sort of thriller.

Asad Khalil, especially, is well-written, even if he bears a lot of resemblance to characters we’ve read in Vince Flynn’s and Brad Thor’s novels. He’s back in the US intent on revenge against the US and Corey, who foiled his previous revenge-plan in The Lion’s Game. What makes him stand out are his inventive attacks (the aftermaths of which are sometimes painted in particularly grisly detail), and his ability to evade Corey’s Anti-Terrorist Task Force and their inept countermeasures.

DeMille’s writing is fluid and well crafted, and the dialogue feels natural. The author’s wry, cynical humour remains – even if, as mentioned above, it doesn’t always work perfectly. The story is very black-and-white, as can be expected from this sub-genre of thriller, but it would have been nice if there was a little more nuance (which Flynn and Mills, especially, are very good at incorporating into their works).

The Lion is a solid War on Terror, cat-and-mouse thriller. Corey and Khalil are well-matched adversaries, which allows the novel to play out nicely. DeMille’s skill as an author is still evident, but in a field that has some truly great established and up-and-coming authors, The Lion falls a little short, and I didn’t feel it lived up to the quality of authors like Flynn, Thor, Brett Battles, Alex Berenson, and Kyle Mills, who write with (in my opinion) a fresher style and voice. It’s ‘standard’ terrorist-thriller-fare, and not of the quality or originality that one might hope from such a gifted and established author. Corey was also not as worthy a protagonist as in previous novels, and I’ll admit that I had some difficulty moving beyond some of the things he said and thought (again, particularly in the first 10-15% of the novel – DeMille has apparently stated that Corey is written as politically incorrect as he can manage to write, a reaction to his belief that characters become more PC over time).

The Lion is recommended for readers who love the author’s previous work, or anyone looking for a reliable, solid thriller.

John Corey Series: Plum Island (1997 – good, but a little slow to get going), The Lion’s Game (2000 – great antagonist, great plot), Night Fall (2004 – a solid thriller), Wild Fire (2006 – easily the best of the series, with an interesting premise)

For Fans of: Vince Flynn, Tom Clancy, Kyle Mills, Brett Battles, Alex Berenson, Frederick Forsythe, Lee Child, Jack Higgins, Andrew Britton, Tom Cain

1 comment:

  1. Instead of Demille’s tired sequel The Lion, read a book similar to the Lion’s Game revolving around a detective uncovering a 9/11 conspiracy, instead of TWA flight #800. It’s a new release called “America Deceived II” by E.A. Blayre III. The 9/11 chapter brings you back to that time vividly as the detective plot unfolds.
    Sample 9/11 chapter link: