Review: Scorpion Strike

Scorpion Strike

The tenth Jonathan Grave book, I picked Scorpion Strike out of the pile because I thought its concept from the blurb-a Die Hard-esque story of the main character’s vacation interrupted by nefarious actors- was the most distinct and potentially entertaining. The bad news was that turned out not to be the case. The good news was that it’s still a good Gilstrap thriller.

After the initial (and, as always, well-done) setup, the supporting cast of the series returns in force. From there it becomes just another Jonathan Grave novel with all the same issues. The mixture of “too serious” and “too over the top”. The elements beginning to repeat too many times. The too-timid hewing to genre conventions (it reached the point where I groaned twice at how rote the MacGuffins were).

And yet it has the good parts as well. The action is still well handled, and here Gilstrap actually dares to kill off a heroic supporting character. If this had been my first Jonathan Grave novel, I think I’d have thought more highly of it, and it’s still a better-than-average cheap thriller.

Review: End Game

End Game

After five hits that ranged from “good” to “excellent”, the Jonathan Grave series finally gets a miss in End Game. Which is a shame, for it’s still an uncovered gem of a series. Now, five solid books is an excellent run, and even this on its own isn’t that bad. But it’s still weaker than what had come before.

Basically, the formula is there stronger than ever, which means that all the issues with it are also there and stronger than ever. What makes things far worse is a mundane plot and dull antagonists who just don’t seem fitting. That its super-protagonist gets involved at all feels off in a way that none of the previous other plots did. Those felt like challenges befitting someone of Grave’s abilities. Here, it feels weirdly like a 1990-2000s technothriller where the villains have to be propped up in a crude way. And the whole point of the small-unit action hero thriller is that it shouldn’t have to rely on such gimmicks.

So this is a disappointment. A readable disappointment, but still a definite disappointment. For authors who’ve proved their worth, the expectations often feel higher. And this didn’t meet them.

The Yearly Blog Year In Review Post

So 2020 happened. The worth of this blog in getting me through a lot of stress this year cannot be overstated. It’s been an amazing experience. What’s also been an amazing experience is seeing just how me becoming more broad-minded about fiction has manifested. What might have been exactly the sort of thing I would dismiss with a firebreathing sneer. Now I read and enjoyed it. I’ve been reading and reviewing far more alternate history than I had in the past as well.

I also feel comfortable with how I stopped the Creative Corner. That blog was becoming nothing but filler posts for the sake of a perceived obligation, and I found that once I made the conclusion post, it just felt right to concentrate entirely here.

There’s two book series I read this year that really stand out. The first is John Gilstrap’s Jonathan Grave series, which happened at the right time. I was having what I call the “D-Day Effect” where something big and covered you’ve previously dismissed becomes novel simply because you haven’t experienced it. This has happened to me and “grocery store books”, and this series was proof that some mainstream successes are deserved.

Of course, the second and much bigger series is Kirov. This is weird. Not just in its “three mediocre Final Countdown/Axis of Time knockoffs turning into a combination of wargame lets play and time travel soap opera” content, but in how I enjoy it without necessarily recommending it for others to read. But I enjoy it nonetheless, and love how I took so much to a series with a ton of jumping Steel Panthers Characters, wargaming lets plays, and World War IIIs (plural). Knowing that I embraced a series that, before the beginning of this blog, I would have done nothing but sneer at has warmed my heart.

However, there’s also been a bittersweet side to this blog, and that’s in seeing a lot the distant vistas close. Seeing the conventional World War III subgenre at its limits and piecing together what happened to the “Men’s Adventure” fiction that seemingly disappeared after 1990 can be fun, but it can also evoke a feeling of “that’s it”? Then there’s also seeing that some pieces of fiction are just easier and more interesting to actually review than others, even if they’re both equally fun to read. If the blog goes in the direction of those, so be it, but I feel obligated to bring that up. While I obviously haven’t completely dropped them, a “51%” thriller just isn’t as good to review or analyze as an ambitious, conceptually interesting work.

This brings me to the announcement. My answer to “what do you do if you’ve seen all there is of conventional World War III?” is “Write your own take on it.” So I’ve started writing my own supernatural/weird-tinged conventional 1980s World War III novel.

This concludes my 2020 posts on Fuldapocalypse.

Review: Threat Warning

Threat Warning

The third Jonathan Grave “shoot the terrorist” thriller, Threat Warning remains mostly as good as its two predecessors. However, it backslides just a little, as I’m seeing plot elements decisively solidify. The first part of this isn’t too bad, simply featuring Gilstrap deciding on a certain style and it becoming less novel to me. Any long series would have this problem.

The second part is that it features my “this isn’t the movies-it’s worse!” pet peeve where the books go into a lot of semi-realistic detail, and then Grave turns into John Rourke and can fight off giant armies of goons on his own. It’s not a deal-breaker by any means, but it’s still a little annoying.

There’s also two issues specific to this book. The first is that it tips its hand about the main plot too soon, unlike the last two. Again, this doesn’t ruin the book and the action/execution is still as good as ever (with the previously mentioned caveat), but it is a downgrade. The second is that the climax has the villains failing as much due to their own incompetence as the heroes action. While plausible, it isn’t as satisfying. These issues lower Threat Warning from the heights of the previous two novels, but it’s still a fine thriller.

Review: Hostage Zero

Hostage Zero

John Gilstrap’s second Jonathon Grave novel and a tale of kidnapping, intrigue, and action, Hostage Zero lives up to the first. It might be a tiny bit “worse” than No Mercy, but that’s probably just me being more familiar with the series now. So I lack the awe at finding a newer, good author. Though the book itself is excellent.

Gilstrap’s action isn’t “realistic” unless benchmarked against the most absolutely ridiculous alternatives (not that I have a problem with that), but it’s as solid as always. There’s the slower middle portion, but even that demonstrates another strength of its author-a great sense of buildup. Stuff is revealed at a just-right pace. Not too quick, and not too slow. Jon Land has been consistently good at buildup, and in these two books, Gilstrap is too.

And this book and its predecessor also succeed in, well, having the cake and eating it too, for lack of a better word. Jonathan Grave has a huge network of resources at his disposal, but they don’t feel like easy victory buttons. He has to get his hands dirty and challenges do appear in his path. I love finding series that are good that I didn’t previously know about, and so far this is one of them.

Review: No Mercy

No Mercy

John Gilstrap’s debut in the Jonathan Grave series, No Mercy, is very much a “grocery store book”. In fact, I first learned of this series after seeing a later book by him in-a grocery store. That being said, not all grocery store books are bad.

This is, in fact, one of the best thrillers I’ve read in a while. Sure, the plot and characters are nothing out of the ordinary for thriller novels, but the execution of Jonathan Grave and his adventure is fantastic. From the opening rescue sequence, I was impressed by the quality of the action. It’s not perfect. The middle drags just a bit. But it’s fantastic nonetheless.

The action is so good that, even though I saw some of my usual quibbles, I brushed them aside effortlessly. From the opening to some unconventional-yet-effective scenes in the middle to a gigantic battle ending, this was a tour de force. No Mercy was the kind of opening act that deserved to bring about a large book series.