Review: Friendly Fire

Friendly Fire

After an uncomfortably sustained dip in quality, the Jonathan Grave series returns to form in Friendly Fire. While it has all of the contrivances and weaknesses of Gilstrap’s other fiction, it also has the strengths in the form of excellent action. And the latter is far more prominent. It’s a “shoot the terrorist” book, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing if the execution is good.

And it is indeed good here, with Gilstrap leveraging the structure of the series to write powerful set pieces. It’s always a nice thing when a series returns to form after a swoon, and this book is definitely an example of that. It reminds me of the first few Jonathan Grave books, and as an introduction to the series, it’s as good as any.

Review: Black Skies

Black Skies

The third book in the Dan Morgan thriller series (albeit the second one I’ve actually read), Black Skies is a cheap thriller that I expected to be a simply decent one like the first installment. Instead, I found it to be like a cross between someone’s silly Mary Sue self-insert fantasy and Jon Land.

The former comes from the fact that its author claims to be a Black Ops (capital!) veteran, and someone who did so much Super Secret Special Stuff that it’s all secret, you know. The Nigerian prince scammers tell a more credible story. The child who looks at you with crumbs on his face and the cookie jar empty and says “it was the cat” tells a more credible story. This is so obviously a wish fulfillment ridiculous action fantasy.

(Note: I do not consider a wish fulfillment ridiculous action fantasy a bad thing)

The Jon Land part comes from it being one of the few other thrillers that really approach his sense of buildup. I believe it’s a coincidence from both being in a shared genre, but I saw a lot of similarities. There was a good sense of buildup, without really that many stumbles. There were convoluted double and triple crosses. The MacGuffin and antagonist weren’t as gonzo as they would be in an actual Land book, but I’ll take what I can get. Since I love Jon Land thrillers, seeing one in a similar style was quite a treat.

Of course, this also shares some of Jon Land’s flaws. Namely, the rushed disposal of some of the antagonists when it’s clear that the book is running short, and a rather “questionable” depiction of firearms. I saw a “Glock .22” (which implied a small .22LR cartridge, when the author meant a real Glock 22 without the dot) and someone important using a cheapo Kel-Tec gun. Though in a thriller you already know is goofy, the inaccuracies are just part of the fun.

This is not a “good” book by any means. But it is a fun book. And that’s what matters.

Review: Sword of the Caliphate

Sword of the Caliphate

Reading Dodgebomb, I was faced with the very un-Fuldapocalyptic sight of a somber, sedate, historically accurate historical war novel. With Clay Martin’s Sword of the Caliphate, I return to the same place in a much trashier tale. And it’s a self-proclaimed World War III to boot. How could I resist?

The protagonist is an ex-soldier turned contractor guarding a fuel site in Iraq when a super-bioweapon that only affects non-Arabs is released on the world by a terror caliphate. With nuclear retaliation inevitable, he and his compatriots have to try and escape. A premise that’s basically “The Anabasis after an event triggered by Hideo Kojima levels of biology understanding” is not exactly the worst a cheap thriller could do.

This book has everything that I normally dislike about cheap thrillers. It’s written in first person, and the narrator is snooty to boot). It has the “have your cake and eat it too” where the protagonist does awesome things in a nominally “realistic” manner (basically, it’s the equivalent of immediately following Saburo Sakai’s long flight back after being shot in the head with Vesna Vuckovic’s long parachute-less fall, and following that with Jack Burke and Andy Bowen’s seven hour boxing match). It has the frequent “look how much I know” infodumps. The writing prose is very blocky.

And yet all this was present in such great quantities that it actually came full circle from “annoying” to “fun”. When I saw the first instance of my normally loathed “this isn’t the movies, now watch me do this amazing thing”, I actually went “YES!” and did a small fist pump. It’s been a while since I read a book that just teetered on the edge of “amazingly stupid” and “stupidly amazing”.

This novel is tasteless, crass, contrived, ridiculous, bizarre. It’s also fun. And it’s so much more audacious than just a run of the mill “shoot the terrorist” book. I enjoyed it, and that’s what counts.

Review: The Triple Frontier

The Triple Frontier

Marc Cameron’s The Triple Frontier is the ideal appetizer for his Jericho Quinn thrillers. A nice 51% snack that’s short, inexpensive, and takes place in a great setting (you can do some much with the Paraguay/Brazil/Argentina border area), it was the book in the series I read first. I wanted to get a taste of it in a short novella format before I moved on to the full thrillers.

That I have moved on to said full thrillers speaks a lot about the quality I found. It’s not perfect or the best cheap thriller out there. But it is a good cheap thriller.

Review: The Bodyguard Manual

The Bodyguard Manual

For those wondering why I seem to be reviewing so much about bodyguards/security contraptions, the answer is a combination of general curiosity and writing research. The first needs no explanation. The second is because I have a character in my WIPs who’s both extremely wealthy and extremely paranoid (beyond the totally justified concerns someone of wealth would have about security). I wanted to look at the excesses to see what they looked like. And Leroy Thompson’s The Bodyguard Manual is nothing if not excessive.

I can forgive some sensationalism. After all, a genuine manual on executive protection would have to be as long and detailed as a military field manual-and about as exciting to read. This does go into detail on the basics and the tactical templates. But there’s an impression that Thompson is just getting past the boring, realistic, “if it comes to force at all, you’ve already catastrophically failed” details before he goes to the good stuff. And boy is it good.

The general theme of much of the book is that if you are a bodyguard, you will have near-unlimited resources, and you will need them, because the principal [client] is being threatened by a Predator and an entire clan of techno-ninjas. Thompson talks about helicopters, tons of agents there, and exotic weapons that I’ll get to in a bit. If I was to give him the benefit of the doubt, I’d say that his stated experience in protecting military officers means that he’s used to dealing with military-grade threats where you do have lots of assets but also face much more capable threats. However, I have a hunch that the target audience for this book isn’t really aspiring protection officers.

There was an obsession with submachine guns. The biggest red flag I saw was a constant positive reference to drum magazines. Not only do they have a justified reputation for being clunky and jam-prone (see how the Thompson and PPSH both phased them out), but they go completely against the (accurate) stated info that bodyguards should be as low profile as possible. My favorite weird superweapon is his recommendation that, if you can’t get a Barrett .50 caliber rifle or equivalent for legal reasons, an elephant gun should be used to deter vehicles from attacking the principal’s estate.

After reading this, I can see where the “these guys aren’t like the people in action movies-they’re better” annoyance I’ve read in countless cheap thrillers comes from. One of the gun sections is basically “a badass bodyguard with a submachine gun scything down the villains-in controlled single-digit shot bursts”. It’s the definition of having ones cake and eating it too.

Is this a book I would recommend if I or anyone I knew sincerely wanted to be a bodyguard? No, definitely not. But is this a very fun book that can be very inspiring for cheap thriller authors? You bet it is. I had a lot of entertainment reading this book, and the review is the most fun I’ve had writing one in a while.

The Super Bunkers

I’ve long been intrigued by “super-bunkers”, made by and for a combination of overly paranoid governments and survivalists with too much money. For the former, I’ve liked Albania’s mess of bunkers to the point where I made my very first Command scenario centered around that country. For the latter, well, it’s bemusing to look at the entries of bitter rival (to put it mildly) bunker-builders Atlas Survival and Rising S .

Bunkers range from the small, legitimately practical and affordable to the over-the-top. On one end are essentially beefed-up storm shelters. On the other is Rising S’ “The Aristocrat”, which boasts a swimming pool and bowling alley (!).

The practicality of these, especially for private citizens, has unsurprisingly been called into question. There’s the expense (especially for upkeep) and the challenge of getting to the bunker, since even the advanced ones are hard to live in full time. This happened even to John Rourke, who was caught far away from his “Retreat” and had to fight his way to it in the first arc.

Granted, making a bunker on property one already owns is different from the whole Mel Tappan “countryside retreat” that one mysteriously has time to get to before “it” happens.

Review: Blood Brothers

Blood Brothers

I’d thought I’d read all of the books in the Black Eagle Force series, but no. There was a semi-spinoff series, the Mark Ingrham one. Blood Brothers is the first installment. Upon finding that out, I knew I had to get it. And I did. How was it?

Well, first, like every other Black Eagle Force book it is goofy, tasteless, and ridiculous. If I had to really rank them, I’d say this is a little worse than most of the rest. There are two reasons for this. The first is just because a lot of the structural issues are still there. The second is that there’s less focus on the unique “super-VTOL” elements and more on conventional action hero action. This isn’t a deal-breaker, but I’d recommend reading the “proper” BEF novels first.

Review: Survival Guns

Survival Guns

John Rourke may be the fictional poster child of “survivalism”, but the factual one was one Mel Tappan. His most famous work was 1979’s Survival Guns, a book going into detail as to what one should have in their ‘survival battery’.

The important thing to note is that Tappan was an inauthentic, poor-health charlatan. Like an anglerfish, he attained his prominence through a relationship with a more powerful woman-in this case, marrying a wealthy heiress, Nancy Mack (of the truck brand fame). Thus he wasn’t exactly in touch with the ‘common man’, and the fact that his clients were almost all similarly rich Walter Mittys didn’t exactly help matters either.

With this knowledge in mind, why he popularized the “super-lair” type of countryside compound can be a lot more easily understood. He acted as if everyone could buy a concrete barbed wire lair because he himself could. Survival Guns assumes one has an unlimited budget, as evidenced by its recommendation for an ornate Perazzi shotgun (!) This is like recommending someone use a Ferrari for off-roading.

For all its questionable advice, Tappan’s book is a weirdly amusing look at an obsessive culture and a legitimately good historical resource for seeing how “prepping” trends got started.

Weird Wargaming: The Ambitious Special Operations of WWIII

This Weird Wargaming has the original intent of Fuldapocalypse meeting what the blog has gained a focus on-largely conventional World War IIIs mixed with elite small unit actions. I got the inspiration for this from a question of “what would the Army Rangers be doing in a conventional WW3?” Whatever the skill, level, troops like them are just far too light for the Centfront and would get bulldozed and/or bypassed. My initial thought was that they’d just get sent over to Norway with all of the other light infantry.

This was a very timid use of them (and other special forces), and the responses got my eyes lighting up. One was “Delta hunting the rail-mobile command center of GSFG, with the Rangers adding extra muscle.” To me it would be a ultra high-risk operation with an iffy reward, but hey, what else would you use them for?

Something like that would be a blast to sim, even if it’d have to use a different ruleset than the usual large-unit Fuldapocalyptic reenactments. While I have the same apprehension that it would turn into another Kidnapped with a scenario the mechanics aren’t meant to handle if you used a “hard” system, good design on either end would make it excellent. And if you used a “soft” system, well, stuff like this is what action heroes are made for.

Review: Dixie Curtain

Dixie Curtain

Mark Ciccone’s Dixie Curtain is an alternate history thriller set in a Confederate victory North-South Cold War.

The first important thing to note is that the worldbuilding is very much in the vein of “soft” alternate history, with a lot of obvious parallels and historical figures still in the same places and times well after the point of divergence. This is not a bad thing-mostly. At times it gets a little too much in terms of parallel historical figures used, but for the most part it works with the style it’s going for.

As for the actual book, it’s a a solid cloak and dagger thriller beyond its setting. The genre isn’t my favorite type of cheap thriller, but I still liked it. I recommend this to people who like spy dramas and/or alternate history.