Review: The Sword of the Templars

The Sword of the Templars

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A work in the genre of “Templar Catholic Secret History” thrillers that followed in the wake of The Da Vinci Code, Christopher Hyde’s (under the pen name “Paul Christopher”) The Sword of the Templars manages to be somehow fun. Even though by all “normal means” it shouldn’t be.

First, it manages to check every single box one could imagine in a thriller like this. Everything from the academic hero to the unreformed Nazi descendant villain to the general shenanigans to the nature of “the secret” did not exactly surprise me when it was revealed. Second, I’ll just say it sticks to the thriller norms in terms of plot, pacing and action. Third, there’s lavish descriptions of every place that seem different. Fourth, the research ranges from too precise (knowing what color a box of commercial Prvi Partizan ammunition comes in) to too obviously wrong (calling a “point guard” a football position and, worse, describing the details on a submachine gun in terms dubious at best and wrong at worst). Fifth and finally, there’s a lot of blatant direction mentions of other popular books, the very definition of throwing stones from a glass house.

However, it all works somehow. The ability of the villains to throw one goon after another with just the “right” amount of capability against the heroes, the secret history that’s somehow both ridiculous and bland at the same time, and the actually sound literary fundamentals made this readable. In fact, I might say I liked it in part because it hit each and every cliche-it felt like it was to action hero thrillers what Thunder of Erebus was to technothrillers.

Review: Vortex

Vortex

Jon Land’s third novel, Vortex, is easier for someone like me who’s already read many books to review. This is because this is where the writing finally clicks. This is where Jon Land goes from “out-there thriller author” to “Jon Land.”

For all that The Doomsday Spiral and The Lucifer Directive were out-there, this manages to one-up them with its tale of cosmic manipulation, a conspiracy that threatens the universe (yes, the universe), and psychic powers. The foot is on the crazy car gas pedal and it never leaves. From here, it’s just a short step to the “majesty” of Blaine McCracken.

Review: Angels Of War-Veritas

Angels Of War: Veritas

In short, D. J Thompsons Angels Of War: Veritas is a ridiculous tacticool fantasy. This is not a bad thing.

So the son of a Secretary of State described as looking like a “rich preppie kid” leads a conspiracy/army of people in gray trenchcoats that takes over the US. These “Deciders” reminded me nothing short of the enemies in a B-list first person shooter game from the 1990s or 2000s. The main character, with the book told in first person view, is caught up in the struggle against them.

When I said the book was “tacticool”, I meant it. Everything-and I mean everything is in the lens of “describe every gun in detail, describe every armored vehicle in detail, have everymen-turned-super-operators carry out their operations against the evil trenchcoat-men with TACTICAL PRECISION.” In another context, I might have found it annoying. Here, when it’s accompanied by “level bosses”, every popular conspiracy theory being true, and a fight scene that reminded me of the Raiden-Armstrong showdown in Metal Gear Rising Revengeance, it’s part of the fun.

Is this the best written book? No. But I had a lot of fun with it all the same. It’s the sort of thing that’s just so gonzo and ridiculous enough that it fits my standards for being fun.

(This is the last book review of 2019. I’ll be wrapping things up with a year in review post and then on to the new year!)

 

Review: OPSIG Team Black Hard Target

OPSIG Team Black: Hard Target

Fuldapocalypse has finally achieved a milestone. Between this and The Zone Hard Target, I’ve finally reviewed two books with the same title. After an assassination attempt on the vice president and president-elect occurs, the protagonists race to conduct an investigation.

The book is a little overstuffed, including an appearance by FBI profiler Karen Vail, another Jacobson character who has her own series. It has a tawdry love story and the main plot and a bunch of pushed-in-characters like her. In spite of the legitimate (if misguided) research, it has some obvious plot gaffes, like using a common 7.62x54mm round as a smoking gun (pun partially intended) when a more exotic caliber would have made a lot more sense.

But what’s worse is that it’s mixed with many of the elements of an over-the-top thriller (including a final twist that’s actually similar to something that happened in a Blaine McCracken book) that are sadly shackled to a plodding and grounded-in-all-the-wrong-ways “shoot the terrorist” story. Finally, the characters, including the main protagonist, aren’t very likeable or interesting either.

That being said, it’s still not the absolute worst cheap thriller out there. But there are definitely better ones by far, and there are many more I’d recommend ahead of this.

Review: The Lucifer Directive

The Lucifer Directive

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This early Jon Land thriller, his second published novel, has all the hallmarks now familiar to me after reading literally over a dozen of his books. In The Lucifer Directive, a young college student gets a wrong number call that changes the fate of him and the world. What makes this book relevant to the original goal of Fuldapocalypse is that the evil plot involves triggering a (nuclear) World War III.

It’s very hard to review a lot of books by the same author in the same style – even if it’s a style one enjoys. And this book, while a little clunkier than some of Land’s later books, still does his “escalating craziness” gambit very well.

In fact, think one of Land’s biggest strengths as a writer, besides his sheer over-the-topness, is his skill at that kind of plot “buildup”, for lack of a better word. Granted, it’s it’s not done in the most graceful way. Yet it works, and works very well.

Review: The Hunted

The Hunted

huntedcover

Alan Jacobson’s The Hunted is the first entry in his OPSIG Team Black series of thrillers, although the later ones wouldn’t be written for some time after the initial publication date of this in 2001.

Reviewing this book was a little difficult. As I’ve said many times, I’m not the biggest fan of straight-up cloak and dagger books, which this definitely is. That being said, it’s kind of middling and feels (not surprisingly given its nature) like a smoothed-edges “grocery store thriller.” The climax is well-done, but getting there can be a slog.

The only thing that really jumped out for me was the book giving a “secret history” explanation for the death of Vince Foster, making the antagonist responsible. But even that tidbit can’t sustain this sluggish book.

Review: Pandora’s Temple

Pandora’s Temple

After being buried for more than a decade, Blaine McCracken returned in Pandora’s Temple.

This book shakes off the cobwebs of Dead Simple and returns to what made the early McCrackens so excellent. Ridiculous MacGuffins, even more ridiculous action set pieces, giant plot twists, and more. A Blaine McCracken book works best when it’s utterly crazy, and this certainly qualifies as such.

It’s a little rougher and more “overstuffed” than some of the early McCracken novels (not that I’m complaining about too few ridiculous set pieces, it just feels a little clunkier), but is still an incredibly fun spectacle that can definitely sit along side them.

A Thousand Words: Iron Eagle

Iron Eagle

Time for a nostalgia piece from my past. I watched Iron Eagle a lot on DVD when I was younger. It is an amazingly stupid and stupidly amazing action aviation movie that is incredibly 1980s.

So, a fighter pilot is shot down over “Libya” and his son, with the aid of a fellow pilot, “acquires” a pair of F-16s to rescue him, causing a massive number of explosions in the process. Because the actual US Air Force was not exactly keen on sponsoring a movie where kids can steal F-16s, the filming was in Israel, with Kfirs playing the role of “MiG-23s.”

The movie’s gotten a lot of understandable comparisons to Top Gun which I think are off-base, and not just because Iron Eagle was actually released before it. Top Gun is a very “Tom Clancy” movie, an idealized story that still has a fig leaf of grounding. Iron Eagle is a very “Mack Maloney” movie, something that just goes “Prepare film for ludicrous speed” and never looks back.

So yeah, there’s a lot of explosions, an F-16 that never runs out of ammunition, an F-16 that lands on a convenient runway in the film’s climax, a water treatment plant that stands in for an oil refinery, the politics you’d expect from an 80s action film, buildings exploding after getting hit with individual Vulcan rounds, a convenient in-universe excuse to play the (excellent) soundtrack at every opportunity, and so much more.

There’s a reason why I watched it so much, and it’s not because the acting was Oscar-worthy. This movie is classic ridiculous 80s fun.

Review: The Eighth Trumpet

The Eighth Trumpet

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Fresh off the first Blaine McCrackens, Jon Land introduced fellow super-agent Jared Kimberlain for a similar absolutely bonkers thriller. The Eighth Trumpet not only has offbeat fight scenes, it also has a plot centered around an, uh-Jerry Ahern-ian grasp of geography. By this point the formula has solidified, especially with the Hulking Strong Sidekick Protagonist who fights the dedicated Hulking Strong Antagonist hand to hand during the climax.

That being said, it manages to out-McCracken even some of Land’s other books with how ridiculous-and fun- some of the set pieces are. It’s not that much different “plot”-wise from many of Land’s other books (at least to someone like me who has actually read a ton of them), but it definitely has a huge spark of “WOAH!” in it, making it very worthwhile.

Snippet Reviews: October 2019

The Press Gang

Kenneth Bulmer (as “Adam Hardy”) wrote the Fox series of age-of-sail adventures in the 1970s. The Press Gang is marked as being the second in the series in the modern Kindle format, but it was the first actually printed (chronological vs. publication order?).

In any case, the tale of George Abercrombie Fox is not the best one to ride across the waves. Bulmer’s prose, which I recognized from the Dray Prescot books, isn’t the best, and the setup is this weird hybrid of cheap thriller and Herman Melville “this is what an age of sail ship is like”.

The Enigma Strain

Nick Thacker’s first book in the Harvey Bennett series of thrillers, The Enigma Strain is a solid thriller, if a 51% one. The book features the titular park ranger and a CDC scientist as they fight to stop a plot that involves an ancient, exotic disease and multiple nuclear bombs.

On one hand, it’s in the awkward uncanny valley that plagues a lot of cheap thrillers. It’s clearly too ridiculous to be realistic, but it’s not bombastic enough to be the gonzo silly thriller that it deserves to be. On the other, it’s still competent enough to be a passable, fun reading experience, and that’s what cheap thrillers are supposed to be.