Review: No Mercy

No Mercy

John Gilstrap’s debut in the Jonathan Grave series, No Mercy, is very much a “grocery store book”. In fact, I first learned of this series after seeing a later book by him in-a grocery store. That being said, not all grocery store books are bad.

This is, in fact, one of the best thrillers I’ve read in a while. Sure, the plot and characters are nothing out of the ordinary for thriller novels, but the execution of Jonathan Grave and his adventure is fantastic. From the opening rescue sequence, I was impressed by the quality of the action. It’s not perfect. The middle drags just a bit. But it’s fantastic nonetheless.

The action is so good that, even though I saw some of my usual quibbles, I brushed them aside effortlessly. From the opening to some unconventional-yet-effective scenes in the middle to a gigantic battle ending, this was a tour de force. No Mercy was the kind of opening act that deserved to bring about a large book series.

Review: Termination Orders

Termination Orders

Leo Maloney’s Termination Orders begins the Dan Morgan series of thrillers. The plot is basically cheap thriller boilerplate, as an action hero faces off against a super-conspiracy. Of course, cheap thrillers succeed and fail based on execution, not concept.

In that sense, the book works. Its action is competent and the pacing done fairly well, although there are a lot of flashbacks in weird places. The exception to the generic yet decent action is one set-piece involving lions that made me smile.

The conclusion I drew is that this book manages to go juuuuust above the middle of the very crowded pack. It’s not the most distinct or best cheap thriller. But it’s done well enough that I wouldn’t call it a mere “51%” book.

Review: Day of Wrath

Day of Wrath

The time has come to review another Larry Bond book, 1998’s Day of Wrath. Now, I was a little reluctant to do it because of a small meme I have where I joke about how few Larry Bond novels I’ve actually covered on the blog. Oh well.

It’s one of the biggest examples of “Captain Beefheart Playing Normal Music”. The plot is simple enough, as Col. Peter Thorn and Agent Helen Gray take on a super-terrorist plot by a wealthy and fanatical Saudi prince. As far as cheap thrillers go, you could do worse. In total isolation, this would be a middling, slightly above-average thriller book.

But it comes in the context of Bond’s writing style. Day of Wrath has all the weaknesses of it I’d noticed in Bond’s other books. The biggest is an extremely long and extremely predictable opening act, something I noticed in Cauldron, Red Phoenix, and to a lesser extent in Bond-contributing Red Storm Rising as well. This, along with a bit of clunkiness and the dichotomy between “wants to be realistic-sounding” and “has the main characters doing ridiculous action hero feats”, drags it down slightly.

The real problem with this book isn’t that it has Bond’s weaknesses, or that the weaknesses are more prominent than his others. It’s that it doesn’t take advantage of his strengths. This is a “shoot the terrorist” thriller that could have easily been written by one of the many, many other writers in that genre. The plot centers around the not-exactly underused MacGuffin of nuclear bombs. Bond’s ability to write large conflicts is simply never used at all.

Given how rare that type of fiction is, having Bond make a “big war thriller” with the stereotypical Middle East Coalition opponent who used their oil money to fund the production and procurement of various super-prototypes would at least be more distinct. It would be something that a more knowledgeable wargamer could do legitimately better than a “normal” thriller author trying to do such an ambitious tale.

Instead, he ends up like the weird musician doing a standard pop song-not technically bad, but merging with the pack instead of standing out. Putting him against tougher competition, his weaknesses become more apparent. It’s like having Eddie Van Halen for a song and, for whatever reason, not having him do a guitar solo of any kind. Yes, it’s music and the talent is obviously there-but you know it could have been so much more memorable.

Review: Serial Vigilantes of Paperback Fiction

Serial Vigilantes of Paperback Fiction

Bradley Mengel’s Serial Vigilantes of Paperback Fiction takes on the task of trying to catalogue many, many cheap thrillers. Mengel uses the term “serial vigilante” to describe what many call “men’s adventure”, and what would in many circumstances be labeled “action hero” on this blog. It’s an impressive feat.

Most of the book is lists and descriptions of various series’ in this subgenre. It’s a self-proclaimed encyclopedia, so its descriptions are broad and not deep. Interestingly, it provides page counts. Though a little dated thanks to to its 2009 publication date, this book has nonetheless been an invaluable resource for finding obscure series.

Review: Ripple Effect

Ripple Effect

I’ll be honest. The sole reason I was attracted to Ripple Effect was the name of its main character, “Bear” Logan. Given how I like thrillers with ridiculous character names, I figured I had to check this one out. So I did. And this time the “the more ridiculous the name, the better” explanation didn’t really work out.

It’s not bad, but it’s only merely adequate at best in a genre filled with adequate books. The only standout feature, besides the name, is how it jumps between first and third person perspective in its writing-something that I don’t think really adds anything. The action is adequate. The pacing is adequate. The characters are adequate for this kind of book. You get the idea.

Review: Philippine Hardpunch

Philippine Hardpunch

Of all the books in the Cody’s Army series, Philippine Hardpunch may be the most middling. Given the nature of 1980s “men’s adventure” fiction, that’s very forgivable. It could easily have been something worse than “middling”, and can still succeed as a time-passer. John Cody and his “army” of three other people still fight, and the result is still a competent cheap thriller.

That being said, in hindsight it falls particularly short. The later Hellfire in Haiti takes its basic premise (associate of a recently ousted, headline-grabbing dictator tries to retake the country, the “army” opposes him) and has a spectacularly better execution. Thus, this becomes one of those books that I’d put in the “only for genre ultra-enthusiasts” category. Not because it’s bad, but because it’s in a genre where there’s just so much available that it has to be really good to stand out. And sadly, this isn’t.

Review: Trigger Point

Trigger Point

The first book in the Gabriel Wolfe series of thrillers, Trigger Point is a novel saved from “51%” mush by its bizarre plot. The title character is a conventional cheap thriller protagonist to a fault. Of course he’s an SAS veteran. Of course he’s haunted by the man he had to leave behind. Thankfully, this is the genre where it isn’t that much of an issue.

That being said, the bigger problem is the execution, with the action scenes and prose coming across as subpar. Another huge problem is that the plot takes a weird turn, with the antagonist being an ultra-connected billionaire plotting to take over Britain in a coup-and yet he has to rely on pathetic American hicks for the weapons-and mundane weapons at that in the form of heavy machine guns in use for a very long time. It’s this weird zigzagging between too big and too small.

Still, in an incredibly crowded genre, there’s just better books out there.

Review: The Ninth Dominion

The Ninth Dominion

The second, and as of now last book in the Jared Kimberlain series, Jon Land’s The Ninth Dominion is a par-for-the-course crazy ridiculous action-adventure book. By the standards of classic Jon Land novels, it has some issues. While it doesn’t help that its immediate predecessor was arguably his most ridiculous (in a good way) novel yet, there’s issues beyond this.

It’s a little less crazy. Beyond that, the biggest issue is that it doesn’t take full advantage of its almost Batman-esque premise of the craziest and most dangerous serial killers escaping. The prose and pacing are a little below Land’s height.

That being said, it still has all the strengths of a Jon Land thriller, and I still enjoyed it significantly. By the standards of more mundane thrillers, it’s quite goofy indeed. Its flaws are not deal-breakers by any measure, and there’s no shame in falling slightly short of a very high bar.

Review: The Secret Weapon

The Secret Weapon

A thriller in the Alexander King series, Bradley Wright’s The Secret Weapon is an example of how tough it is at the margins. My history with the author is a little strange. I’d read some of his books in the past, where they faded from memory as bland and mediocre. Then I saw this book, felt it was bland and mediocre-and then realized I’d read the same author before.

Anyway, the book isn’t really the worst ever. On-paper, it does what a cheap thriller is supposed to do, and only feels like its slightly below average in every category that matters-the action is slightly less exciting, the pacing slightly less efficient, and so on. Yet it’s that little bit that makes the difference.

Because the “action hero” genre is so big, has so many choices, and is reliant on execution rather than concept, for something to fall behind somewhat means there’s a lot out there that’s better. This isn’t like the much tinier “big war thriller” genre where a flawed entry like Chieftains or Arc Light can still be conceptually interesting enough to recommend. Instead, its flaws means it sadly misses the cut.

A Thousand Words: Revolution X

Revolution X

What happens when you take a pair of has-beens fading rapidly from relevance and merge them together? You get Revolution X, an arcade light-gun shooter starring a past-its-prime Aerosmith. The plot is simple-save Aerosmith from a bunch of people in yellow gas masks who’ve outlawed fun. You do so with a gun that fires CDs as well as bullets. Yes, it’s that kind of game.

The gameplay is mostly simple-fire at the hordes of enemy goons on your screen, put more quarters in when they inevitably kill you, repeat as necessary. Two of the later levels make this worse by trying to be more complicated. One, a maze, is simply annoying. The other, a time-sensitive mission where you have to completely destroy a bus before it reaches its destination, is considerably more aggravating.

By the time of its release, Aerosmith had long since fallen from the heights of their popularity, and with more powerful and smaller consoles just coming out, arcades would soon follow. This game is one of those weird novelties that can only happen at a specific time.