Review: Neptune Island

Neptune Island

The first in the “Lincoln Monk” series (how’s that for a protagonist name) by Tony Reed, Neptune Island is a delight to read. One of the biggest problems with trying to find good cheap thrillers is that the cover and even the blurb alone can’t easily tell whether a book is going to be good or bad.

That being said, this book of a Cheap Thriller Protagonist (capital-that’s how blatant it is), a supervillain billionaire, a superweapon, a beautiful biathelete, and a giant mutant crab is the most fun I’ve had reading a thriller in some time. It’s the kind of book that tosses every sort of “restraint” and “realism” aside in favor of ridiculous spectacle, and it’s great fun, especially after a period of more serious and sedate works.

It’s amazing, and is the kind of book that’s a delight to find. Sure it’s “implausible” and there’s a lot of contrivances, but those are small potatoes. The action is great, the setup is great, it manages to have very good buildup (which I’ve found is surprisingly rare among cheap thrillers), and the whole thing is just incredibly goofy-and really, really fun.

Review: The Eleventh Commandment

The Eleventh Commandment

It’s time for Fuldapocalypse to turn to another author of high sales but low reputation, British writer, politician, and convicted criminal Jeffrey Archer. Even though a lot of Archer’s books, from their descriptions, come across as the type of work I call the “pop epic” (ie, Sidney Sheldon), CIA thriller The Eleventh Commandment looked like a grocery store cheap thriller. In fact, it looked so much like a grocery store cheap thriller that I felt a bit of trepidation-would this be nothing but a Marine Force One with a more well-known author’s name on the cover, forgettable mush?

The answer is “kind of.” Its realism, or lack thereof, comes from simply adopting a different baseline. It wants to be a serious cloak and dagger story, which makes every inaccuracy and contrivance more glaring. Furthermore, the prose is very blocky, the pacing slow, and despite seemingly high stakes on paper, it doesn’t feel that way in practice. At least it’s not too long, but it’s just dry and clunky.

The result is something that feels like it has all the weaknesses of a cliche cheap thriller, but few to none of the strengths. Whatever Archer could write, this kind of novel is not it.

Review: Lethal Tribute

Lethal Tribute

A 2000s SuperBolan, Lethal Tribute tells the story of the Executioner as he fights a group of Hindu cultists with cloaking devices and their stolen nuclear weapons. By this point, Mack Bolan plots had long since devolved into “cheap thriller mad libs”. With the books being published at such a fast pace, it’s hard to imagine how they couldn’t have ended up that way.

That being said, this book is one of the better ones, by later Bolan standards-which may not be saying much. It still amounts to little but an overstuffed jumble of action scenes and very much feels (understandably) rushed. It still has the issue of its plot being so shallow (even by cheap thriller standards) that it needs filler. It still has the strange generic feeling that managed to last across different authors in the series. And it still manages to be both over-descriptive of weapons and sometimes inaccurate, listing two different calibers for the same helicopter gun on one page.

But the premise here is at least more out-there than just a plain “shoot the terrorist” novel. Some of the set pieces, from tank attacks to hallucinations, get crazier than usual, a silver lining of a weird “cheap thriller mad libs” result. The filler isn’t quite as obvious or clumsy as it’s been in some other Mack Bolans. Finally and most importantly, the Executioner himself is portrayed as a lot more vulnerable than he is in some other installments. The Gold Eagle Bolans are not what I’d recommend to action readers-they’re very smooth, disposable, mass-produced, measured and forgettable artificial thrillers from the Harlequin assembly line. But in comparison to some of the others, Lethal Tribute still looks just a little better.

Review: ParaMilitary Action-Adventure Fiction, A History

Paramilitary Action-Adventure Fiction: A History

I have loved and respected Nader Elhefnawy’s analyses of fiction. So it’s with a heavy heart that I say that his Paramilitary Action-Adventure Fiction, A History doesn’t live up to his other work on the technothriller.

I saw one big technical error, claiming the SEAL Team Seven series was issued in the 2010s by “Keith Douglass.” In fact, it was reissued from its original run in the 1990s and 2000s after the bin Laden raid and “Keith Douglass” was a pen name used by at least two different people (William Keith and Chet Cunningham) and possibly a third or even more. But a bigger problem is structural.

My biggest criticism is the overly long amount of time spent on the socio-political context of the times, which while obviously relevant at times (such as the crime increase of the 1960s that paved the way for the vigilante novels or the Vietnam War MIA obsession that did the same for action novels in the 1980s), sometimes doesn’t feel like that. It flows a lot worse than the techno-thriller piece does and, worse, zooms out too much. There’s a saying of missing the forest for the trees. This misses the trees for the forest. It’s okay enough when talking about non-print items, but misses the mark when talking about books.

Far more important than what effects the economy had on the national mood were just the simple economics of dealing with anything low-margin, which is what these novels were. The sad, harsh, boring reality is that the kind of disposable paperbacks that the work covers are/were the most expendable bottom feeders of commercial literature. The slightest dip in the economy and/or change in customer tastes could knock out all but the most popular. I don’t blame Elhefnawy for taking the approach he did, but think he was looking in the wrong place.

Review: If It Bleeds

If It Bleeds

A collection of short stories featuring the infamous Predator alien hunters, If It Bleeds is the first anthology I’ve reviewed on Fuldapocalypse. From ancient history to futuristic fighting rings, the Predators come to hunt.

In many ways, these aliens are ideal crossover/setting shifters. A combination of a sense of (comparative) self-restraint and a desire for (by their standards) a “fair” fight mean they can be put almost anywhere, and they are. Compare this with the other half of the “Alien vs. Predator” franchise. The xenomorphs are one-dimensional and will inevitably either devour everything or get crushed themselves.

The various writers take advantage of this to bring about various “prey”. For the most part, they’re successful. However, there’s a few small issues. The first is that the stories that go for some kind of mystery don’t work because you know what the anthology features. The second is that there is no story where Theodore Roosevelt fights a Predator.

Otherwise, this is a very fun group of stories that any science fiction or action fan should enjoy.

Review: The Tenth Circle

The Tenth Circle

The latest, and as of now the last Blaine McCracken book released, The Tenth Circle is a frustrating misfire. While Dead Simple was, for the most part, a consistent middling slog without Land’s past spark, this occasionally shows the craziness that makes most of the series such a treat-and then drops dramatically.

The book opens with a delightfully preposterous and ridiculous set piece that does Blaine McCracken justice as he destroys an Iranian nuclear site. If the rest of the book was like that, I’d be giving it a wholeheartedly positive review. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

The problem is that the rest of the book is just too inconsistent. It’s often too self-serious for its own good-and then it returns to individually out-there set pieces. It’s not as (comparably) bad as Dead Simple and a lot of the fun is still there, but shares the problem in that its central core is a more conventional thriller that revolves only around the use of exotic explosives. Yet unlike its immediate predecessor, Pandora’s Temple, it just doesn’t live up to the classic McCrackens.

Review: The Kamikaze Legacy

The Kamikaze Legacy

A sequel to The Yakusa Tattoo, The Kamikaze Legacy continues to follow hardboiled Ed Mulvaney as he moves to foil another international plot in a stereotypical Japan, this one concerning a deep-sea expedition with sinister motives. This is less the “crazy Jerry Ahern novel mixed with technothriller” of its predecessor and more “crazy Jerry Ahern novel mixed with Clive Cussler-esque technology/ secret history thriller.”

While it still has the strengths and weaknesses of The Yakusa Tattoo (strengths: good ridiculous action and an even more ridiculous plot-weaknesses: blocky prose and a million weapon descriptions), I found that this has a MacGuffin that by all means should belong in a boring “shoot the terrorist” novel, but ends up being just as crazy as the rest of the book. This emphasizes that, especially for cheap thrillers, execution is more important than concepts by far. As for what it is, it shouldn’t be too hard to guess.

This is a very stupid-fun Jerry Ahern book. It’s the kind of book where the mountains of technical inaccuracy and implausibility actually add to the appeal of it all. While it’s not quite as bizarre as its predecessor, it’s still a very fun cheap thriller.

Review: The Foundation (Steve P. Vincent)

The Foundation

Not to be confused with Asimov’s sci-fi classics, Steve P. Vincent’s The Foundation is a cloak-and-dagger story. In it, journalist protagonist Jack Emery battles the super-conspiracy known as the Foundation for A New America. The Foundation thus takes its place alongside the Patriots, Those Who Slither In The Dark, “Valhalla”, the Kataru, the Delphi, the X Syndicate, the Y Syndicate, the Socrates Club, the Council of Ten, the “Wise Men”, and even more super-conspiracies I’ve forgotten about.

(Look, I read a lot of cheap thrillers with super-conspiracies in them, all right?)

This is very much a 51% book through and through. There’s a super-conspiracy, there’s a conventional war between nuclear states in the background where no one seems particularly concerned with it going nuclear (did the zombie sorceresses come in?), and, slightly unusual for the genre, the main antagonist is a woman. Otherwise it’s just middling cloak and dagger fiction.

Review: Black Friday

Black Friday

I decided to finally do it, reading a book by a super-famous author. James Patterson’s Black Friday (original title Black Market) is a thriller of financial and physical chaos. It’s also a book that’s (as far as I can tell) genuinely his and not simply a “James Patterson’s” book with his name on it.

The chapters tend to be very short, in a style I already knew about from secondhand talk of his writing. I generally don’t mind short chapters, and he was not the first author to use them, but somehow they didn’t fit here. I think it’s a combination of them and a ton of shifting viewpoint characters that make the whole thing just look disjointed and sloppy.

And then there’s the tone, which is this constant plodding of Deep, Dark Seriousness. The jarring differences between that and the inaccuracies, particularly surrounding firearms, is astounding. This isn’t (just) having guns work on action movie logic or making mistakes like calling an SKS “automatic” and not knowing which airborne division has an eagle as its symbol. It isn’t even having a character use an American-180 for no discernable reason except the “it’s an exotic gun I’ve heard of” factor.

This is references to “machine gun pistols” (Exact words). This is talking about how submachine guns weren’t used in city fighting due to their high rate of fire (er…), and a gun that combines ridiculously effective silencing (even by cheap thriller/action movie standards) with implied heat seeking bullets. Said gun is only used in a single scene. It’s bad, even by the standards of someone who’s read a lot of cheap thrillers.

The plot feels like an absurdist jumble of cheap thriller cliches. There’s a super-conspiracy, lots of cutaways, and everything from international terrorists to crazy veterans. But with the tone and janky pacing getting in the way, it’s not the kind of book where you can enjoy the excess. There are a lot better books, even mainstream thrillers, out there.

Review: Primary Target

Primary Target

Jim Heskett and Nick Thacker’s Primary Target is not the deepest story, nor does it have the most plausible premise. Basically, circumstances lead to assassin Ember Clarke having to participate in a trial by combat, fighting off other assassins trying to kill her over the course of several weeks.

However, in spite of this setup, it’s well done. Yes, it has the “this isn’t a movie but I do super stuff anyway” gripe I’ve seen far too often, and its premise deserves action far more bizarre and over the top than what actually occurs. But the book remains a solid cloak and dagger thriller.

Granted, I’m not the biggest fan of such novels, but I still like variety. And this is cloak and dagger done very well.