Review: Arch Enemy

Arch Enemy

The fourth Dan Morgan book, Arch Enemy fits with the theme established by its predecessor. It’s kind of clunky and disjointed when it comes to specifics. There are too many plotlines and they’re just sort of shoved together at the end to wrap it up. On top of that, it just moves too slowly.

But in generalities, it’s exactly the kind of book that I love. The cheap thriller that isn’t afraid to have ridiculous set pieces and walk the tightrope between “amazingly stupid” and “stupidly amazing”. Its flaws weren’t enough to have me drop the book, and when it got to the secret oil tanker prison ship, I was grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

This isn’t a work of high literature, but it’s the kind of book I enjoy and enjoyed.

The Men’s Adventure Weapon That Could Have Been

There exists a Hungarian rifle called the GM6 Lynx. This semi-auto bullpup represents an attempt at making the comparably least bulky .50BMG rifle available. Although given the size of the cartridge, that’s a very tall order. It’s all relative.

Anyway, I bring this up because I find it interesting and not just for its own sake. My first thought to using this in fiction would be as an anti-monster gun, because it would be the comparably least clunky attempt to harm big beasties (given how the original King Kong eventually succumbed to lighter .30-06 bullets, a few people with these could probably take him down.) But then a different thought came to my mind. This gun came at the wrong time from the wrong country for fictional prominence.

See, men’s adventure writers unsurprisingly often focused on size and “exotic” qualities over practicality. Mack Bolan used a .460 Weatherby elephant gun. The Desert Eagle is actually reasonable compared to the infamously buggy Automag, but that was the weapon of choice before the former came into being. So my thought is “if a comparably small .50BMG rifle that wasn’t from a then-Soviet-aligned country existed at the height of the men’s adventure boom, you bet every action hero would be using it a lot.”

As it stands, a predecessor to the GM6 by the same manufacturer, the GM1 (which looks a lot more like the classic PTRD/M82 style .50 rifle), appeared in Phantom of Inferno, used by Ein on a sniper mission. The gun was almost as long as she was tall. It has since been used in fighting games as her super move.

A Thousand Words: Requiem For The Phantom

Phantom: Requiem For The Phantom

The 2009 anime Phantom: Requiem For The Phantom is an adaptation of the “Phantom of Inferno” visual novel, the first work by infamous creator Gen Urobuchi. It tells the story of a young Japanese man and enigmatic girl turned underworld assassins with German number codenames, as they fall into a twisted world. It’s perhaps the best example of a “mean 51%” work I can think of, because of how zig-zaggy it is. A “median 51%” story would be bland but effective consistently, and this is anything but.

The production values and especially soundtrack are excellent overall. But the animation quality is surprisingly inconsistent. And the plot and characters are much more so. It wants to be this dark drama exploring the human psyche but it also wants to have tacticute girls and ex-East German supervillains bouncing around. This doesn’t always mix. A bigger problem is that so much of the story line is devoted to a fundamentally uninteresting conflict between various equally unsympathetic amoral criminals. It just became hard to care about, and the main characters spent more time moping than taking advantage of the agency that they theoretically had.

This is the equivalent of Dave Kingman or Chris Davis, a show that just swings and swings and either hits the ball hard or strikes out. While it often doesn’t succeed, I can give it credit for sincerely trying, and it was never outright bad enough that I didn’t want to watch.

Review: Deception

Deception

Zach James’ Deception is a debut thriller by a debut author. While it has some roughness around the edges and is a little clunky plot-wise in terms of jumping around between times and places, it does enough right to make me forgive it. I’ll even forgive the description of “Hudson Bay” as being close to New York and not close to northern Canada.

Hopefully the announced and obviously set up sequel will improve the writing fundamentals. But this is still a good action read and a good enough cheap thriller. Welcome to the community of thriller writers, Zach James!

Review: WagerEasy

WagerEasy

It took me a long time to actually read the sports betting-centric thriller/murder mystery WagerEasy by Tom Farrell. This is simply because I was writing my own book centered around that industry, and didn’t want any, however accidental, cross-contamination or subconscious comparisons. So I only took it up after I finished The Sure Bet King.

That being said, I needn’t have worried (at least in hindsight). WagerEasy is a first-person thriller where the same general subject matter is the only thing it has in common with my own novel. It’s very much an apple to an orange.

So how is it as a book? The answer is-very good, even with me not being the biggest fan of first-person narration or the “hardboiled” style it tries to go for.While I feared it would be just dreary and grubby at first, WagerEasy turns out to have high stakes in a clever way and effective action set pieces. In fact, one of the action scenes in the middle of the novel had me going “Really?” And I meant it in a good way. Like, this could have been written by Jon Land. And Farrell definitely knows his stuff concerning sports betting itself (although I was a little surprised there wasn’t more discussion of the reputation European sportsbooks have for banning/ultra-restricting winning bettors). So I enjoyed this a lot.

Review: Silent Assassin

Silent Assassin

The second Dan Morgan thriller (albeit the third I’ve actually read), Silent Assassin is an awkward novel. By itself, it’s a decent enough cheap thriller that does decent enough cheap thriller things. The action is never worse than passable, and some of the set pieces, like an ultra-secret facility on Long Island of all places, made me smile. Yes, it’s cheesy and ridiculous, but that’s what cheap thrillers are for.

However, having read two other books in the series, it felt like it was a step up from the first book, but not as good as the third. Reading it gives the impression of an author trying to find a footing that he would get in the next installment. So I would recommend, unless you found you really liked this series, to just start with Black Skies.

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.