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Vol. X No.16 - October 1 - October 31, 2011


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Book Review: by Lang Reid
 

Zero Hour

A new Nick Stone adventure thriller has just hit the Bookazine shelves, written by “Andy McNab”, purportedly the most decorated SAS UK soldier, having won several medals during his time with them.  He has written 12 “Nick Stone” novels, and this is one of the newer ones.

It is interesting to conjecture that “Nick Stone” is the literary version of the author, but it should be taken into account that “Andy McNab” is also an alias!  However, the hero was an abandoned child, as was McNab.  There is an old adage which goes ‘write about what you know’ and these Nick Stone novels are prime examples.

Zero Hour (ISBN 978-0-552-16259-3, Corgi Books, 2011) is concerned with human trafficking from Eastern Europe, and sees the hero Nick Stone becoming heavily involved in a hunt for a young woman who they thought had been trafficked, whose family was important, and at the request of the British government.

Do not form the impression that this is a James Bond style of novel complete with exploding pens and dinner plates that fold up to become helicopters.  Nick Stone is an earthy hero, who gets beaten up several times in the 500 pages.  He does do his fair share of beating others too, but he is a really human hero who bleeds, especially when he has just been stabbed with a knife.  He also is given the news that he has an inoperable brain tumor, and with six months to live, decides he would make this his last sortie.

One literary procedure to give weight and veracity to a work of fiction, is to introduce ‘real’ items amongst the imagined.  McNab even mentions Viktor Bout, the arms dealer who was ‘detained’ in Thailand for many months and insinuates him amongst the international underworld from the old Russian federation.  Another item was the North Korean nuclear reactor, complete with detail of its construction and the number of fuel rods it used.

Nick Stone takes you through the Baltic States, Amsterdam and London as he pursues the human traffickers, and then in turn, finds himself being pursued.  He describes in minute detail the agony of being stabbed and kicked, and you believe him, even though not many of the readers will have been stabbed and kicked.  This is a fairly violent book.

A few weeks ago I reviewed a book which had 25 “thriller” short stories and I commented on the fact that the “thriller” genre does not sit well in a short story format.  This is really shown in this book, where the author takes the reader through an adventure, building up the suspense, and in this book leading to what is almost a double denouement.  The build-up is gradual, then the pace quickens, and you are eagerly looking forward to the next page.  Thriller to the core.  I keep my contention that thrillers cannot be short stories.

At B. 360 for over 500 pages, this is a cheap read for a long weekend.  You will enjoy it.  Your heart will quicken at times, and you will be surprised.  You have my word on this.


The Age of Deception

During the lead-up to George W Bush’s Iraq war (the war we were going to get, whether we liked it or not), one man stood out as the sole purveyor of reason and who was prepared to speak that reason, in the face of the American protagonists.  That man was Mohamed ElBaradei, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The Age of Deception (ISBN 978-1-4088-1700-1, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011) is ElBaradei’s discussions on Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya and more, and gives the reader some ‘real’ facts in the investigations into the likelihood of there being Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) being held by the various regimes.

In fact, some of the documentation linking Saddam Hussein and uranium purchases were forged and this was shown by ElBaradei, but the US and the UK had already chosen their path, and that was war.  ElBaradei was told to pull his inspectors out of Iraq as the war was about to begin.

There can be no doubting that ElBaradei is a moral man where he states, “I cannot read such accounts (of the Iraq war) without reflecting on the thousands of soldiers who have died, the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, the millions maimed or displaced, the families disrupted, the lives ruined - and I am astonished that there has not been more self-examination, more introspection on the part of the principal players.”

As well as nations that are trying to join the nuclear arms race, there are then the suppliers who can assist these nations acquire the equipment necessary.  The A. Q. Khan network was one of those, with the principal player from India, but with a network all over the globe, including some Pakistani army generals and even the Musharraf government, and Dubai - more than just oil, it would seem.  That is while Pakistan was receiving enormous financial aid from the US.  What a wonderful web politicians can weave.

One very interesting chapter shows America’s attempts to block ElBaradei’s re-election to the position of Director General of the IEAE in 2005, including a smear campaign that had been initiated by the CIA, which included bugging his phones and insinuating he had large amounts of money in Swiss bank accounts.  They failed, and ElBaradei was re-elected.

In a chapter citing double standards ElBaradei touches on the nuclear ambitions of some of the Middle East countries, with behind the scenes duplicity rampant.  It is difficult not to get depressed reading of the machinations, but the words will make you even more interested in what comes next.

On the Bookazine shelves at B. 630, this is an absolutely fascinating book which reads like a detective thriller - but unfortunately it is not fiction.  That deceit is so prevalent, on a subject that has the propensity to destroy the world as we know it, is a frightening situation that we are living with.  The Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty was hoped to be the savior of mankind.  However, with countries such as India, Pakistan and Israel not party to it, and North Korea having withdrawn, you can draw your own conclusions.


I hope they serve beer in hell

The book, I hope they serve beer in hell (ISBN 978-0-14-102945-0, Penguin Books, 2006) opens with a short story on how the author Tucker Max challenges everyone in a bar to a drinkathon, monitoring the progress with a portable alcohol breathalyzer.  He revels in being the center of attention, but then vomits into the bushes outside the restaurant.  He wakes in the morning sleeping in his car and his blood alcohol concentration is .09, still over the limit to drive.  A rather juvenile story, but perhaps this was from when he was young (but since it was three years after he graduated, he would have been in his mid 20’s, which is not really “young”.  “Immature” is a better adjective.).

The second story revolves around getting drunk and baiting a bunch of rednecks.  Tucker Max was the designated driver but did not enjoy the experience.  “Being the only sober one in a group of retarded drunks is not fun.  From now on, I’m drinking and driving.”  He was an undergraduate at that time, and uni undergrads are well known for drunken antics; however, most would deplore Tucker Max’s decision.

The third story was, in essence, a list of girls who had performed blow jobs on this incredibly juvenile author.  Come on (no pun intended), a blow job is a blow job is a blow job.  By this stage I was finding the book so boring I decided to skip a few chapters, so I hope you’ll forgive me.

In about the fifth story in, where he describes being sacked from a law firm for stupid behavior, “I acted like a drunk retard and they couldn’t tolerate my potential liability.  What could I expect them to do?  Pat me on the back and get me a hooker and some beer?  That would be pretty cool, though.”

The back cover has “Actual Reader Feedback” such as, “I am completely baffled as to how you can congratulate yourself for being a womanizer and a raging drunk, or think that anyone cares about an idiot like you.  Do you really think that exploiting the insecurities of others while getting wasted is a legitimate thing to offer?”

Of course author Tucker Max does also offer the other side of the coin.  “I’ll stay with God as my lord, but you are my savior.  I just finished reading your brilliant stories, and I laughed so hard I almost vomited.  I want to bring that kind of joy to people.  You’re an artist of the highest order and a true humanitarian to boot.  I’m in both shock and awe at how much I want to be you.”

All I can say to that is “Let the saints preserve you.”

At B. 460 it is not an expensive book, detailing the drunken antics of some very juvenile quasi-adults, without the decision making abilities that most young adults manage to develop.  If you have a table with unequal legs, this book might just be the answer, but please don’t read it.  I only did because I had to.  Pulp prose at its worst.


First Thrills

It was only as I fired up the scanner to get the cover of First Thrills (ISBN 978-1-84887-1, Corvus Books, 2011) that I saw that this was not a new Lee Child book, but was an anthology, and when I opened it, it became evident that the number of pages written by Lee Child was actually only 11.  When you look at the front cover of this book you can be taken in by the name “Lee Child” in large letters, below a line in a very small font admitting that the book was “Edited by and with a brand new story from” (Lee Child).  Smart advertising or false advertising?  It does not matter, but I was annoyed, principally at my own gullibility.  This is not the way to sit down to begin to enjoy some good reading.

When I looked at this book in more detail, it was apparent that First Thrills was 25 short stories, written by 11 “big names” and 13 “new names”.  If I am to believe Mr. Child’s introduction, his 11 big names (and himself) agreed to contribute to this collection, in a communal fit of altruism to “help” the new names gain exposure.  I’m sorry, but I felt that he was probably being somewhat economical with the truth.

The first story was by Gregg Hurwitz, one of Mr. Child’s “big names”, with a very long CV and although the plot was quite different from the usual, I am hard-pressed to say it was a ‘thriller’.  Only 16 pages in length, it became rather evident what was happening next by half way through.

I do not believe that thrillers fit into the format of the short story.  Thrillers build up the suspense, make the reader try and work out who is the good guy, and who is the villain.  The characterization of the principal subject of the book takes time too, if he or she is to be a believable person.  I found this short story format left me looking for more.  Where was the next chapter in this story?  Unfortunately it wasn’t there, and never was going to be there.  For that reason alone, I felt like I had just consumed a Chinese meal, which always seems to leave you vaguely dissatisfied.  That feeling of dissatisfaction was enough to make me stop reading before I had got half way through the book.  This does not happen often, especially with thrillers, so I have to say that this book was certainly not for me.  Jeremy Clarkson can produce a wonderfully readable book made up of 52 short stories.  But he is writing humor.  The 25 short stories in First Thrills were not humorous.  They were at best, mildly thrilling.  But not satisfying.  Sorry.

At only B. 385, this was not an expensive book on the Bookazine shelves, and with 25 short stories to consume, the group International Thriller Writers (ITW), on the surface, look to have compiled something that might work.  But it didn’t, and in future, please do not try and trick people into believing they have found another Lee Child book!


 
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Zero Hour

The Age of Deception

I hope they serve beer in hell

First Thrills
 

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