The Deceived

50. The Deceived by Brett Battles. 358 p. Published June 2008.

This novel is the sequel to Battle’s debut thriller, The Cleaner.

When Quinn is called to clean up a body, he prepares for a normal job. What he didn’t prepare for was discovering that the body belonged to one of his closest friends, Steven Markoff, who was left to die in a shipping container. With only a cryptic message scrawled in his friend’s blood, Quinn feels obligated to inform Markoff’s lover, Jenny. But Jenny, a Congressional aid, has gone missing, and Quinn finds a bunch of men ransacking her house.

Quinn, with the help of his apprentice Nate and Orlando, a tech-savy compatriot, jumps around the country tracking Jenny’s trail. Along the way Quinn begins to unravel a devious plot by forces within the U.S. government. Finally, Quinn tracks Jenny to Singapore, where the story begins to take on a whole new level of intrigue and danger.

The Deceived continues to develop and refine the world of The Cleaner. Improving on his skills at character development and pacing, Battles combines technique, technical detail, and a gift for sudden plot twists to carry the reader along. While a number of scenes in the novel still come across as unfinished or even unecessary, The Deceived exhibits Battles’ skills and potential in a bloated market.

Rating: 3 out of 5

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Area 7

35. Area 7 by Matthew Reilly. 387 p. Published February 2002.

Dealing with the aftermath of the events in Ice Station is tough on the government and military. In the end, the politicians can only put Scarecrow and the surviving members of his team in one place – aboard Marine 1, the President’s helicopter. Now heading the Presidential Marine guard, Scofield finds himself escorting the newly elected President on a tour of classified Air Force bases in the western portion of the U.S.

The President, with his entourage of Secret Service agents, political aides, and Marine escort, arrives at Area 7. This research facility, housed in NORAD’s original installation and guarded by an elite class of commandos, is now the center for the Air Force’s bio-chemical weapons program. In particular, the scientists have focussed on developing a vaccine to a race-based biotoxin originating from China.

However, as the President is touring the facility, the true motives for scheduling his visit become clear – the Air Force is staging a coup d’état. Trapped inside the base, Scofield’s team must work to reach the president and keep him alive. But doing so is more difficult that believed – for the madman in charge has created the biggest “Ticking Time Bomb” scenario concievable. Confronted with assault on all sides and the potential ramifications of their failure, Scofield and his men must do the impossible – secure the president and the vaccine while outmanned and outgunned.

With action and intrigue raging across every page, Area 7 is a perfect sequel to Ice Station. Scarecrow, along with his memorable batch of grunts, takes the reader on a journey spanning subterranean caverns, mid-air gunship battles, and low-orbit space combat. And however wild and crazy that sounds, Reilly’s consistent voice and plot dynamic make it all believable. Okay, maybe the space-based combat was a little far-fetched.

However, while Area 7 was enjoyable, it had some serious faults. There is almost no character development and the few attempts Reilly makes are rather transparent – the classic romance, the conflicted son of a fallen comrade, the return of a character obviously unfit for military duty. Reilly could do better. On top of that, Scofield has kept his death-defying luck and puts it to ready use shooting down missiles and leaping off cliffs. These are things that are excusable for an initial novel – but not a sequel.

In the end, Area 7 pulls the reader along with a solid pulse-pounding plot, but offers little else in the way of substance. While this is par for the course of military-thrillers, I was hoping for a bit more. Even so, I enjoyed reading Area 7 and can’t wait to move on to the next book in the Shane “Scarecrow” Scofield series.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Other Reviews of Area 7: The Redneck Romance Writer

Ice Station

32. Ice Station by Matthew Reilly. 390 p. Published September 2000.

The latest book in this series was recommended to me by a friend’s mother. I decided to start at the beggining.
Lieutenant Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield and his team of Marines are sent to Halley Station, a science lab buried in the ice of Antarctica, in response to a mysterious call for help. Part of the message: the scientists believe they have found an alien craft buried nearly a mile down.

Scarecrow and the others arrive to find that the French have beaten them to the station and they are forced into battle. While the team comes out victorious, the damage they have taken leaves them crippled. Faced with a traitor in his team, incoming hostiles, and even nature working against him, Schofield relinquishes control of the base in favor of protecting the surviving scientists. But first he has a few of his marines and one scientist descend under the ice to examine and secure whatever is down there. Faced with a situation where survival is impossible, Schofield performs stunningly as a series of events work to shake the very foundations of the military and the U.S. Government.

Ice Station is a brilliant mix of suspense, espionage, action, and science fiction. Scarecrow is quite the remarkable character, and the trials Reilly puts him through are almost sadistic in their ingenuity. With a gift for tactics and ingenious weapon ideas, Reilly guides the reader through the depth of military intrigue. With a well paced plot and a story that ducks and dodges with every chapter, Reilly’s Ice Station keeps you on your toes until the very end. This book sets an excellent foundation for a series.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Crooked Little Vein

25. Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis. 280 p. Published July 2007.

In a sense, this is the debut novel for Warren Ellis. That sense being that he’s published dozens of graphic novels and short stories before Crooked Little Vein, but this is his first novelized publication.

We all know how important the first line in a story is for setting the mood. It’s often called ‘the hook.’ Well, here’s the first line of Crooked Little Vein:

“I opened my eyes to see the rat taking a piss in my coffee mug.”

That pretty much sets the tone for Michael McGill’s life, because he is the unluckiest man in the world. He’s been refered to as a “shit magnet,” which, oddly enough, comes in handy for his job as a private detective. (Want an example? The year before, his investigation of a cheating husband led him to a sex-cult in the act of their odd fetish; tantric sex with ostriches.) But frankly, Michael’s life is starting to wear on him and when unparralleled opportunity comes knocking, he’s off on an adventure. Not that he has much choice though, since his client is the Chief of Staff for the President of the U.S.

The Chief, himself a depraved individual of the highest caliber, wants Michael to find the secret constitution of the United States, authored by the founding fathers to guide the President and his cabinet, and lost since Nixon traded it for some asian tail. Since the tome was lost, America has been in a steady moral decline, something the current President feels must be stopped.

So McGill, armed with 1/2 a million dollars, a top-secret government handheld computer, and his own brand of ill fortune finds himself traveling across the country. Along the way he finds Trix, a perpetual traveler with a stark facial tatoo and a penchant for the occult and spectacular. Together, the two follow the trail of the Constitution, finding each past owner more perverted and inhuman than the last. And more powerful. Stuck in a juggernaught of depravity, Michael must remain on his toes if he wants to get out of this one in one piece.

Ellis pulls all his research together to form this novel. Filled with a combination of real-world horror, fantastic circumstance, and Ellis’s own brand of dark humor, Crooked Little Vein is the single most (purposefully) disturbing novel you will ever read. It’s definetely not for the young or faint of heart. The plot is rapid and the characters rabid. Warren Ellis is probably the only author who can expose his readers to such prose and not be excommunicated by the vatican.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Other Reviews of Crooked Little Vein: Dynamic Subspace, StormKeeper, The Bodhisattva

Maximum Ride: The Final Warning

23. Maximum Ride: The Final Warning by James Patterson. 256 p. Published march 2008.

I started reading the Maximum Ride series because I heard it was being remade into a manga and wanted to give Patterson a fair chance. Four books later and I sorely regret it.

If you haven’t heard of Maximum Ride, here’s the breakdown. Maximum (Max for short) is the leader of 6 mutant bird-children (and eventually one mutant talking dog). Their recombinant DNA has granted them superhuman strength, avian-esque wings, and various abilities ranging from mind reading to super-farts. The first three books take you through their treacherous youth as lab-experiments, their escape, recapture, betrayal by loved ones, escape, recapture (they do this combo a few times in each book), and the eventual final battle against the evil corporation that created them.

The Final Warning opens in the wake of this final showdown. After Max buries her half-brother, she and the flock, along with her parents, travel to Washington D.C. to meet with the government and see what is to become of them. Max and the rest promptly tell the politicians off and fly away. Max’s mother convinces her to take the flock on a trip with some environmental scientists to the south pole. While there, Max and the others hang with penguins and learn about global warming. Max and Fang (her second in command) are promptly separated from the rest when looking for Angel, the youngest, who has wandered off and fallen into a crevice in the ice with the dog. As Max and Fang save Angel, they are captured by a strange Frankenstein’s-Monster of a man and his robot minions. Max finds that the rest of the flock has been captured as well. The Flock is taken to Miami, which has been evacuated due to an imminent Category-4 hurricane. There they meet the Uber-Director, who has placed them up for auction to the highest bidding evil-power (various anonymous heads of state and industry). It’s up to Max, as always, to help the flock and foil this latest plot against them.

So, might as well start off positively. Patterson uses his gift for fast paced plot and thrilling characters to render The Final Warning a decent addition to the Maximum Ride series. And the new political slant to his work has shed light on an important issue (global warming). But in the end, this entire series is disappointing. His attempts at youthful jargon and internet lingo are pedantic and laughable. His plots consistently prey on the divide between teenagers and adults. Patterson supplements the reader’s imagination of this relationship with depictions of capture, subversion, and torture. And in the end he gives the reader a hollow victory, where the hero escapes to fight another day. Frankly, the one realistic lesson Patterson grants is this: it takes superhuman strength to achieve individual freedom and maintain it. And even then, you end up sleeping in the woods and scavenging out of dumpsters.

Patterson’s work has always benefited from his gift for using simple concepts and thrilling pacing to build a magnificent story. But the Maximum Ride novels read like a midlife crisis put to paper. Most men buy fast cars, find mistresses, and go to Vegas. Patterson writes teen fiction. And while his political statement adds originality to this overused genre of super-teens against the world, his apparent push for militant activism among today’s youth is shockingly irresponsible.

Patterson, stick to the adult thrillers.

Rating: 1 out of 5

Other Reviews of Maximum Ride: The Final Warning: Karin’s Book Nook, Teen Book Review

By the Rivers of Babylon

20. By the Rivers of Babylon by Nelson De Mille. 432 p. Published 1978. Republished June 1990.

This author was recommended to me by the friend who brought The Cleaner to my attention. I chose to read By the Rivers of Babylon because it was the earliest published work of his at my library.

This novel opens in France, where a bomb has been hidden aboard a newly constructed Concorde jetliner bound for service in El Al. We jump to a year later in Israel, where preparations for the departure of a peace talk delegation is underway. Every risk, contingency, and threat has been foreseen and prepared for. Or so they think. Two Concordes take off, heading for NYC, with a guard of F-14s beside it. Suddenly, a terrorists’ Lear Jet swings in and stuns the entire country with a daring mid-air hijacking. Suddenly one of the delegation’s jetliners makes a break for freedom and is disintegrated by the terrorists. The F-14s are forced to retreat and the terrorists and remaining members of the delegation disappear into the desert.

Soon after, the Concorde is forced to put down in Iraq near the ancient fortress of Babylon. But sudden disabordination by the pilot lurches the plane from terrorist control, and the delegation sees a chance to avoid captivity. Grounded in the ruins of Babylon and surrounded by vastly overpowering forces, the remaining members of the delegation and its security detail dig in. Beseiged by terrorist attacks, hazardous conditions, and internal power struggles, the survivors grapple with concepts of peace, violence, fate, and the essence of human nature.

I’ll admit De Mille’s novel is compelling. I read the entire book in about 6 hours. His plot is convincing enough to capture the reader and by page 360 I had no idea where the remaining pages were going to take me. And despite the fact that this novel is 30 years old, it fits within a very possible future Middle East.

However, there was one overpowering downside to By the Rivers of Babylon, and that was its characters. Many of them seemed somewhat contrived and only three – Hausner, Brin, and Baxter – came alive.  These three are the coldest emotionally, yet the easiest for the reader to grasp. I don’t believe that this was do to a lack of skill on De Mille’s part, but rather his own innability to connect to the emotions and sometimes zealot-like nature he imbued into the other characters. Furthermore, the plot shifts between character-driven and situational depending on which characters are in focus.

Now, I purposely chose some of De Mille’s ealier work because I wanted to judge a contrast with his later work. That being said, this was an enjoyable read, and not simply because the heroes (and anti-heroes) succeed and villians fail, but because the story is well developed and artfully paced.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Hard Rain

16. Hard Rain (John Rain Series) by Barry Eisler. 366 p. Published July 2004.

This is the sequel to Rain Fall and second book in the John Rain series. We rejoin Rain in Osaka, Japan. And what would be a better time than when he’s about to kill someone? Because John Rain is an assassin, specializing in “accidental or suicidal” causes of death.

While relaxing in one of the better Jazz clubs in the city, Rain is confronted by Tatsu, an agent of the Keisatsucho (Japanese FBI). Tatsu, who has worked his entire life weeding out the corruption in the Japanese government, has a request for Rain: track down and kill another assassin. When John is later approached by a contact from the Christians In Action for the same target, he knows that something big is in the works.

With his usual tact, Rain winds his way through harrowing dangers. But this latest plot doesn’t only risk him, but Harry and Midori, his best friend and the girl he loves who believes him dead.

Eisler continues to flaunt his skills in creating a stunning work of suspense. As before, Eisler’s use of Japanese dialog and real-world locations lends authenticity to his work. With every page adding to the intrigue, Hard Rain builds off the acclaim from Rain Fall and raises Eisler to the top of the procedural espionage and thriller genre.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Other Reviews of Hard Rain: The Adventures of Karen