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.

Snippet Reviews: June 2020

It’s time for more snippet reviews.

The Kingdom of the Seven

There are two things you need to know about The Kingdom of the Seven. 1: It is one of the tamer Blaine McCracken books. 2: It features an evil televangelist building an underground city in an old salt mine.

Sword of the Prophet

The final entry in the Cody’s Army series, Sword of the Prophet is a merely middling book. Though not the worst men’s adventure novel ever, it’s not hard to see why this was the last in the series.

If Tomorrow Comes

A Sidney Sheldon novel about a female con artist, If Tomorrow Comes stands out for its ridiculous character arc. The protagonist goes from being a naive fool to a super-genius very quickly.

Review: Manuscript For Murder

Manuscript For Murder

Jon Land took over writing the Murder She Wrote books, and Manuscript For Murder is the result. Inside a very thin shell of a cozy mystery, Land releases one of his thrillers, complete with the super-conspiracy of the week.

Jessica Fletcher starts by investigating murders (how shocking) and ends up following a enigmatic political thriller manuscript that turns into a murder-soaked conspiracy reaching to the highest levels of power. In other words, it’s par for the course for his books.

One strange factor is the context vs. the actual details. The former would make it weirder-after all, this is supposed to be a cozy mystery, yet it involves multiple gunfights and deathtraps. This is an older woman author, not Blaine McCracken. The latter, in comparison to Land’s other books, seems less weird, since this is still Jon Land we’re talking about.

That being said, the nameplate ultimately doesn’t matter much. This is a weird, bizarre quirky, and quick Jon Land book. I can understand why actual cozy mystery fans would be disappointed, but come on, this is the guy who had monster truck chases in his “proper” books. I can also understand why this is tamer than his “normal” books. Still, normally a book like this would sink into the mix. Shifting genres gives it a chance to stand out.

 

Review: The Vengeance Of The Tau

The Vengeance Of The Tau

The first Blaine McCracken book to stumble, The Vengeance Of The Tau is an interesting case study in how a series can lose its mark while still remaining good. This still has all of Land’s strengths and weaknesses.

Where it goes wrong, besides just having big shoes to fill, is in the revelation of its MacGuffin. While Land is normally great at slowly building up and finally showing what ridiculous premise the book has as its foundation, here he implies something incredible and reveals it to be more lame and mundane. This isn’t just the final gimmick turning out to be something less than Land’s most out-there, it’s an example of going backwards that he almost never does in other books.

This, combined with somewhat less crazy set pieces, makes this lesser in comparison to McCracken books that came before and after it. In a vaccuum it’s still Jon Land, and it’s not even the worst book in the series, but there are definitely better ones.

Review: The Council Of Ten

The Council Of Ten

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Jon Land’s The Council Of Ten is a thriller that starts off with the impression of being overly mundane. Launching with the obvious Miami Vice-inspired tone and location, the book starts slowly and there’s a fear of just being a slightly eccentric drug novel. Thankfully, the super-conspiracy reasserts itself, the Big Burly Bad Guy Thug appears, and soon all is right with the world.

It’s incredibly hard to review a lot of similar books by one author. The Council Of Ten is a little subpar by Jon Land standards. The MacGuffin not living up to some of the more ridiculous ones isn’t really too bad. Worse is that there’s a little too much space devoted to long and comparably mundane fights. But it still has all the wonderful craziness Land is known for, and, after its slow introduction, it never feels like a rote 51% book.

And besides, you’ve gotta give props to a book that has a conference room on its cover.

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: 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: 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.

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.

Review: The Doomsday Spiral

The Doomsday Spiral

Some content creators have first works that are rough around the edges. Some start off strong and get weaker. Some, like Billy Joel in the psychedic-progressive-just-a-keyboardist-and-a-drummer Atilla, are vastly different from their subsequent and most famous pieces. So I decided to read Jon Land’s first novel, The Doomsday Spiral, and see where it fell.

The book roars out of the gate as Israeli super-vigilante “Alabaster” must stop a plot by the Palestinian “Red Prince” to neutralize the Americans so that they can deal with the Israelis later (the Red Prince must have gotten his lessons in target priorities from the Red Storm Rising Politburo). This could have been a middle-of-the-road “shoot the terrorist” novel. It wasn’t.

By Jon Land standards, fighting a giant man with a chainsaw (as happens in this book) is pretty tame. By normal thriller standards, especially the kind of thrillers I call “supermarket novels”, it’s delightfully out there.

I saw pretty much every plot device used in subsequent Land novels. The superpowered main character. The over-the-top ridiculousness of it all. The conspiracy-in-a-conspiracy. The inevitable action scene against a particularly tough level boss antagonist. An overall feeling of swinging back and forth between “awesomely stupid” and “stupidly awesome.” I’d say it’s formulaic, but when part of the formula is “ridiculous stuff happens”, it doesn’t feel so bad as long as Land can deliver. And here he does.