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.

Review: The Valhalla Testament

The Valhalla Testament

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I knew what I was getting into when I got the book. The Valhalla Testament is a Jon Land novel starring New York Giants running back (!) Jamie Skylar as he travels to Nicaragua to investigate and foil a very Jon Land-ian supervillain plot.

This book hits every Jon Land note. Trained attack crocodiles, double-crosses, double-double crosses, a plot that veers between “amazingly stupid” and “stupidly amazing”, “.60 Caliber machine guns”, and, in my personal favorite plot twist, an antimatter facility that not only gets blown up, but whose containment procedures as described were so terrible that it probably deserved to get blown up.

By its author’s ridiculous standards, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of some of the Blaine McCracken novels. But it’s still a good cheap thriller that very much has the spark Land at his best possesses.

 

Review: Dead Simple

Dead Simple

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The ninth book in the Blaine McCracken series, Dead Simple marked a point where it took a very long hiatus afterward.

It’s easy to see why. This book devolves into “Captain Beefheart Playing Normal Music” in a way that no previous Blaine McCracken book did. McCracken is, in the early parts, treated as aging and vulnerable-a problem both in terms of thematic dissonance and how he’s back to his old self instantly when the climax happens. The moments of whimsy and craziness that make the series so amusing feel half-hearted at best. The storyline is closer to a mundane “shoot the terrorist” than any previous McCracken, the MacGuffin is the least interesting and most bland in the series to date, and its historical-treasure subplot felt awkward and out of place, like it was trying too hard to follow the exact path of a Clive Cussler novel.

If this was in isolation with a new hero named, I dunno, Bruce McDowell, I’d have considered it a decent, slightly eccentric, run-of-the-mill “51% thriller”. But in comparison to its gonzo predecessors, it can’t help but fall short. Leaving the series buried for over a decade before a fortunate revival might have been for the best if the alternative was to stagger on into mundanity, losing everything that made Blaine McCracken fun and distinctive to begin with.