Quick Review: THE BREAK LINE by James Brabazon (Berkley/Penguin)

brabazonj-mm1-breaklineushcAn assassin sent into the field with limited information, confronted by a bizarre, deadly mystery in the jungle

British intelligence operative and hardened assassin, Max McLean, battles a nightmarish enemy in this stunning debut thriller from an award winning war correspondent.

When it comes to killing terrorists British intelligence has always had one man they could rely on, Max McLean. As an assassin, he’s never missed, but Max has made one miscalculation and now he has to pay the price.

His handlers send him to Sierra Leone on a seemingly one-way mission. What he finds is a horror from beyond his nightmares. Rebel forces are loose in the jungle and someone or something is slaughtering innocent villagers. It’s his job to root out the monster behind these abominations, but he soon discovers that London may consider him the most disposable piece in this operation.

I’m so used to reading thrillers and spy novels starring American protagonists — be they independent contractors, CIA or FBI agents. It was therefore quite refreshing to read James Brabazon’s debut novel. It is, at times, wonderfully British in idiom and style and it left me a little homesick. It should definitely still appeal to an international readership, however (as a Brit living overseas, however, there were things that struck a chord of nostalgia). Overall, I enjoyed this quite a bit. A promising start to a new series. Continue reading

Interview with DAVID RICCIARDI

RicciardiD-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is David Ricciardi?

I’m a thriller addict and an outdoor enthusiast who always thought I had a book inside me and finally decided to take a shot at it.

Your debut novel, Warning Light, will be published by Berkley in next week (April 17th). I’m lucky enough to have already read it, and I really enjoyed it. How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?

Thanks! I’m glad you liked it. I’d tell potential readers that it’s a story of survival and self-reliance. It begins with a young CIA analyst who volunteers for a mission in the field and soon finds himself fighting for his life. It’s man against man and man against nature as the hero is chased across the globe by Iranian counterintelligence agents. Continue reading

Review: WARNING LIGHT by David Ricciardi (Berkley)

RicciardiD-WarningLightUSA fast-paced, gripping debut thriller

No one knows what CIA desk jockey Zac Miller is capable of — including himself — when a routine surveillance job becomes a do-or-die mission in the Middle East.

When a commercial flight violates restricted airspace to make an emergency landing at a closed airport in Iran, the passengers are just happy to be alive and ready to transfer to a functional plane. All of them except one…

The American technology consultant in business class is not who he says he is. Zac Miller is a CIA analyst. And after an agent’s cover gets blown, Zac — though never trained to be a field operative — volunteers to take his place, to keep a surveillance mission from being scrubbed.

Zac thinks it will be easy to photograph the earthquake-ravaged airport that is located near a hidden top secret nuclear facility. But when everything that can go wrong does, he finds himself on the run from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and abandoned by his own teammates, who think he has gone rogue. Embarking on a harrowing journey through the mountains of Iran to the Persian Gulf and across Europe, Zac can only rely on himself. But even if he makes it out alive, the life he once had may be lost to him forever…

Ricciardi’s debut thriller is one hell of a fast-paced story. It’s a high-concept espionage and action tale, one in which an analyst is thrown into the field — a world of which he has no experience — and must overcome staggering odds to make it back home. This is a really entertaining, globe-trotting novel. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE SURVIVOR by Vince Flynn & Kyle Mills (Atria/Simon & Schuster)

Flynn&Mills-MR12-SurvivorUSThe 14th Mitch Rapp novel, Flynn’s last

When Joe “Rick” Rickman, a former golden boy of the CIA, steals a massive amount of the Agency’s most classified documents in an elaborately masterminded betrayal of his country, CIA director Irene Kennedy has no choice but to send her most dangerous weapon after him: elite covert operative Mitch Rapp.

Rapp quickly dispatches the traitor, but Rickman proves to be a deadly threat to America even from beyond the grave. Eliminating Rickman didn’t solve all of the CIA’s problems — in fact, mysterious tip-offs are appearing all over the world, linking to the potentially devastating data that Rickman managed to store somewhere only he knew.

It’s a deadly race to the finish as both the Pakistanis and the Americans search desperately for Rickman’s accomplices, and for the confidential documents they are slowly leaking to the world. To save his country from being held hostage to a country set on becoming the world’s newest nuclear superpower, Mitch Rapp must outrun, outthink, and outgun his deadliest enemies yet.

Vince Flynn passed away after beginning this novel. His estate and publisher asked Kyle Mills, another fantastic thriller author, to step in and finish the book. I’ve read all of Flynn’s novels, and I’m happy to report that Mills has done a great job of continuing the series. Continue reading

Civilian Reader is 10yrs Old… A Look Back at the First Review

Happy10thBirthdayTen years ago today, I posted my first fiction review on Civilian Reader. It’s very weird to think I’ve been writing reviews, etc., for a decade. It was not my first ever book review, though: the first novel I reviewed was Richard Morgan’s excellent Market Forces, for my university newspaper. A review that was, sadly, completely butchered by the editor. Maybe that’s one reason I decided to start my own book review website…

I’ve thought about shutting the website down a number of times over the years — sometimes more seriously than others. And yet, I keep getting drawn back into writing for it. It’s taken up a lot of my free time. I’m of two minds about whether or not this has been a good or bad thing.

And so, to mark the ten-year anniversary, here’s the first review I posted to CR…

*

THE BLACK SUN by James Twining (Harper Collins)

TwiningJ-2-BlackSunUKSequel to The Double EagleThe Black Sun is a fine sophomore novel from a truly talented British author.

In London, an Auschwitz survivor is murdered in his hospital bed, his killers making off with a macabre trophy – his severed left arm.

In Fort Mead, Maryland, a vicious gang breaks into the NSA museum and steals a World War II Enigma machine, lynching the guard who happens to cross their path.

Meanwhile, in Prague, a frenzied and mindless anti-Semitic attack on a synagogue culminates in the theft of a seemingly worthless painting by a little known Czech artist called Karel Bellak.

A year has passed since Tom Kirk, the world’s greatest art thief, decided to put his criminal past behind him and embark on a new career, on the right side of the law . Then three major thefts occur, and suddenly Tom is confronted with a deadly mystery and a sinister face from the past.

James Twining has managed to write a twisting tale of historical intrigue and action, while not falling foul to the cliches and pot-holes that affect Dan Brown. There’s no dubious religious connotations or huge leaps into left field to help his arguments and premises. True, he’s clearly made some of the background up, but then that’s why this book is found in the “Fiction” section of Waterstone’s… Continue reading

“The Last Man” by Vince Flynn (Simon & Schuster / Atria Books)

Flynn-LastManUKThe final Mitch Rapp novel

An invaluable CIA asset has gone missing, and with him, secrets that in the wrong hands could prove disastrous. The only question is: Can Mitch Rapp find him first?

Joe Rickman, head of CIA clandestine operations in Afghanistan, has been kidnapped and his four bodyguards executed in cold blood. But Mitch Rapp’s experience and nose for the truth make him wonder if something even more sinister isn’t afoot. Irene Kennedy, director of the CIA, has dispatched him to Afghanistan to find Rickman at all costs.

Rapp, however, isn’t the only one looking for Rickman. The FBI is too, and it quickly becomes apparent that they’re less concerned with finding Rickman than placing the blame on Rapp.

With CIA operations in crisis, Rapp must be as ruthless and deceitful as his enemies if he has any hope of finding Rickman and completing his mission. But with elements within his own government working against both him and American interests, will Rapp be stopped dead before he can succeed?

The Mitch Rapp series is in many ways the one that kick-started my passion for international and espionage thrillers. After reading Transfer of Power, the novel that introduced Rapp as the man who takes back the White House from terrorists, I quickly caught up with the rest of the series, and have read every one since. The Last Man is, sadly, the last novel. Flynn passed away last year, after a long battle with cancer. It’s an awkward ending, however. Thankfully, though, while the novel began shakily, it ended strongly. Long-time fans of the series and characters won’t be disappointed, as this is another fast-paced, gripping international thriller, featuring all of the key series characters.

One of the first things to jump out at me was just how aggressive Rapp is at the start of the novel. True, he’s a CIA assassin, who has had a decades-long career killing people all over the world, so how cuddly could he ever be, really? Nevertheless, he came across as far more aggressive and even downright mean when dealing with others. It felt like a real departure from how I remembered the character. The previous two novels Flynn wrote focused on Rapp’s early career, taking us to his first missions working for the CIA. This can, perhaps, account for the apparent shift in character – it’s been years since I read a novel when the ‘present day’ Rapp was at the centre of the story (a couple before the early ear novels focused more on one-time Rapp protégé Mike Nash). I’d accept, therefore, that I just forgot how the character was from before. At the same time (just to add yet more qualifiers), it definitely felt like he was just more aggressive and confrontational by default, rather than as a result of what’s going on around him. Maybe the novel’s naysayers have a point, that Rapp’s special status has made him more arrogant and given him a sense of invincibility (physical and political). He came across as though he was acting more macho and dick-swinging, rather than just being the Most Badass in Any Room.

Given just how much of an asshole he can be, this was one of the first times in the whole series when Flynn wasn’t able to always keep me on Rapp’s side, even when we know he’s pushing the envelope and bending rules just that little bit too far. Despite belabouring this impression, what I’ve come to consider the Rapp normalcy did reassert itself after I passed the 25% mark(ish).

Around this 25%-mark, Rapp is seriously injured, too. It allowed the author and character to take a look at Rapp’s life and SOP with a bit more depth. His memories are all screwed up, many of them missing, thanks to the head injury he sustains. We see him navigating the slow return of memories – both good and bad – and the way he processes them made him a more interesting and nuanced character. The presence of Louie Gould, too, added an extra level of tension (I won’t remind fans who he is, nor will I spoil it for new readers).

His injury is just one of a couple of factors that make Rapp more interesting as the novel progresses. True, he is still preternaturally gifted at his job, but he is kept grounded by mistakes and miscalculations (the cause of his injury, for example, is the result of a rash – though effective – last-minute tactical move). This humanising of Rapp, something that was not always as evident in the earlier novels, I thought was a welcome development – he’s not a super-human, faultless killing machine, anymore.

Flynn-LastManAs the novel continues, we learn of a larger conspiracy, which ended up being pretty well-told. There are the usual forces foreign and domestic working against Rapp, his comrades and CIA Director Irene Kennedy (who is always excellent). The final quarter of the novel is a fast-paced resolution that I could not put down, and I turned the final page at 2am. Flynn’s gift for constructing engaging, briskly-paced thrillers really was superb, and few authors writing in the same sub-genre could match him (David Baldacci and Kyle Mills are perhaps the only two I consider better).

There were a couple of moments when Flynn’s own politics and obvious affection and support for the clandestine and more force-oriented US governmental institutions shines through, coupled with less-than-positive portrayals of diplomatic actors. This doesn’t take up much of the novel, which also means he doesn’t offer the normal balance that I’ve always liked in his novels. The author was known for courting the conservative press in order to promote his novels – fair enough, as a conservative himself, why shouldn’t he? – but the fact that he didn’t lampoon liberals or Rapp’s opponents unnecessarily, always saved his novels from becoming ham-fisted anti-liberal screeds. Villains, foreign and domestic, were appropriately diabolical or (more likely) petty politicians, but were not limited to the Democratic Party. In The Last Man, however, it is far more about the investigation than the political forces at play behind the scenes – which is a pity, as Flynn really was very good at writing that part, too.

In all, then, a very good final novel, if not an excellent one. Nevertheless, I will seriously miss my annual fix of new fiction from Vince Flynn. The quality of his novels will allow them to persevere and, I’m sure, remain in print for many years to come. If you are a fan of international espionage thrillers, then I highly recommend Flynn’s work.

R.I.P. Vince Flynn, 1966-2013

Novel Chronology: American Assassin, Kill Shot, Term Limits,* Transfer of Power, The Third Option, Separation of Power, Executive Power, Memorial Day, Consent to Kill, Act of Treason, Protect and Defend, Extreme Measures, Pursuit of Honor, The Last Man

* This is not actually a Mitch Rapp novel, but a couple of the characters within feature throughout the main series. It’s an excellent novel, too.

Upcoming: “The Man With the Golden Mind” by Tom Vater (Exhibit A)

Vater-TheManWithTheGoldenMindLast year, Exhibit A published Tom Vater’s debut thriller, The Cambodian Book of the Dead. Sadly, it ended up being one of the thrillers that went onto my eReader and I promptly got distracted by other things, and it has thus-far gone unread. Now that this second novel in the series, The Man With the Golden Mind (April 2014), is to be released, I’m going to have to get my act together and get caught up!

“In trouble again… and a long way from home…”

Julia Rendel asks Maier to investigate the twenty-five year old murder of her father, an East German cultural attaché who was killed near a fabled CIA airbase in central Laos in 1976. But before the detective can set off, his client is kidnapped right out of his arms.

Maier follows Julia’s trail to the Laotian capital Vientiane, where he learns different parties, including his missing client are searching for a legendary CIA file crammed with Cold War secrets. But the real prize is the file’s author, a man codenamed Weltmeister, a former US and Vietnamese spy and assassin no one has seen for a quarter century.

To learn more about Tom’s novels and writing, be sure to visit his website and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.