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Tom Clancy Under Fire (Campus Novel)
Tom Clancy Under Fire (Campus Novel)
by Grant Blackwood
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars this was a pretty disappointing book, 23 Jun. 2015
Unfortunately, this was a pretty disappointing book. The previous co-/ghost written Clancy novels were at least realistic, creative, and accurately portrayed Clancy's characters and created interesting situations. This book is a just a generic, empty action novel. All references to Jack Ryan Jr can be replaced with another name and you'd never know this was a part of the Clancy series. If anything, it more resembles a Bourne movie, with the main superhuman spy assassin character arriving in Tehran and quickly on the run with a female sidekick, pursued by various intelligence agencies, and constant chases and shoot outs throughout the story.

The pacing was tedious. It's one of those books where you feel like you've reading for hours, but you've barely made a dent in it. The action was boring and too frequent. The characters were flat and had forced relationships with one another that aren't fleshed out. Jack's long friendship with Seth doesn't feel real and is just a plot contrivance forced on the reader to the advance the barely existent plot, as is the cliche romantic subplot with Ysabel.

The plot also wasn't that great, and just had too many weird elements that make you question the author's grasp of the subject matter. Americans and Europeans somehow engage in fights and gun battles across the Iranian capital without attracting the attention of the Iranian secret police, which routinely monitors foreigners in Tehran. Speaking of which, seems like the Iranian security services, which are generally hostile to the US, would recognize the US president's son and keep him under close surveillance. Good thing they don't, since Jack practices some pretty sloppy tradecraft in the book. And what Jack was doing alone in Tehran in the fist place was never explained, just casually brushed off as "an intelligence gathering junket" (whatever that is) with no clear purpose. I'm also not convinced the author knows what Dagestan is or how Russia's political system/structure works, making the central coup plot extremely unlikely. The geopolitical accuracy you expect from Clancy books just wasn't in here.

So, I can't recommend this book. Even if you just want quick mindless, action there's way better books out there that actually have tense, exciting, fast paced action scenes.

Even Dead or Alive, which Clancy co-write with Grant Blackwood, was really good and read like a real Clancy novel (leaving me to believe Blackwood's contribution to that book must have been miniscule).

I'm glad other people liked this book, but hopefully they're the minority so that Putnam doesn't put out more books like this under the Clancy brand.


Locked On
Locked On
by Tom Clancy
Edition: Hardcover

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Locked On, 2 Jan. 2012
This review is from: Locked On (Hardcover)
It's become increasingly apparent that Clancy is not writing these "co-authored" books, but I still enjoyed this book more than most of the novels Clancy really did write. I always liked his characters and stories, but his writing and storytelling abilities made it difficult to get through his books. Clancy never says anything in one paragraph, if he can say it in three pages.

Locked On is basically standard terrorism thriller. Hundreds of them have been published and they're mostly all the same, but the characters and a fairly intelligent and complex plot sets Locked On apart from all those other books.

The plot involves a rogue Pakistani general giving nuclear weapons to Russian separatists and launching terrorist attacks in India to topple Pakistan's civilian government. Meanwhile, in a boring subplot with no surprises, Jack Ryan is running for president, and lots of other stuff happens in various episodic subplots. The subplot of Clark on the run and pursued by various mercenaries and intelligence agencies is trite and reads a little too much like co-author Mark Greaney's own Gray Man series. There's also the now requisite Rainbow mission.

The characters consist mostly of Clancy's new characters from Teeth of the Tiger, and less on his older ones. Which is appropriate since they're all in their 60s by now. Like John Clark, who, despite his age, is still jumping out of airplanes and leading counterterrorism missions. Jack Ryan shows up every few chapters or so, but he doesn't serve much purpose at all.

There's a few implausible and unlikely moments, and it's not like what Clancy used to write, but for what it is and compared to what else is being published these days in this genre from big name authors (Flynn, Thor, Silva, Berenson, etc), Locked On is a pretty good book.

If you don't like the co-author on the cover, then don't buy the book and then complain about the co-author. If you just want an entertaining book to read, then you'll probably enjoy this one.


Ballistic (Gray Man)
Ballistic (Gray Man)
by Mark Greaney
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.45

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ballistic, 25 Oct. 2011
This review is from: Ballistic (Gray Man) (Paperback)
I was critical of the first two Gray Man novels. While I liked the concept and the character of Courty Gentry, the first two books had simple, threadbare plots, shallow, flat characters, and repetitive overly-long, action scenes. But they were still well-written and fast-paced books.

In this third novel, Mark Greaney has improved considerably as a writer. For the first time, Courty Gentry actually comes across as a real person. The other characters are believable and not just cardboard cutouts. The story is more complex, mature, and well-developed. Rather than non-stop action, there is build-up to the action scenes, and Greaney does a much better job of creating suspense and maintaining tension.

While Flynn, Thor, and Silva are re-writting the same Muslim terrorist stories over and over again, Greaney sets Ballistic south of the border. Courty Gentry, still on the run in South America from CIA and Russian mafia assassins, arrives in Mexico to pay respects to a dead friend. There, he becomes embroiled in the drug wars as he protects his friend's family from a Mexican drug cartel and corrupt police. Greaney does a good job of depicting the bleak, violent conflict taking place in Mexico, without overloading his story with background and historical information. He portrays his fictional cartel leaders as these people are in real life; sadistic and completely apathetic to human life.

But, Ballistic did not quite make it to a five-star rating from me. The fast pace of the novel comes to a dead halt in the middle of the novel, where Court Gentry and the family under his protection are beiseiged in a house. This lengthy section just dragged on for too long and became repitive as they fend off one wave of attackers after the next, but the pace quickly picked up again after this. Also, without spoiling the ending, the climax seemed a little unlikely and strayed a bit from the gritty realism of the rest of the novel.

So, only two minor faults with the novel, and I enjoyed Ballistic far more than the new Daniel Silva, Brad Thor, or Tom Clancy books released this year. Mark Greaney is really starting to look like a promising author, and I'm really looking forward to more novels in this series, as well as the upcoming Tom Clancy book he "co"-wrote.


Portrait of a Spy (Gabriel Allon 11)
Portrait of a Spy (Gabriel Allon 11)
by Daniel Silva
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More of the same., 5 Sept. 2011
This review contains some spoilers, so if you've never read Silva before, skip it. If you've read Silva before, then the spoilers don't matter, because you've already read this same exact plot several times before.

Another act of violence brings Gabriel Allon out of retirement again, to work with the CIA and the British, again, in unraveling a new terrorist network. Again, Gabriel assembles his usual team and forms a plan to penetrate the villain's operations, again involving the recruitment of a woman outside the intelligence world and a painting. Then the woman is discovered to be an agent and abducted, the operation falls apart, and a hasty rescue mission is planned. The terrorist plot is foiled, but it takes a small epilogue after the main action to assassinate the main villain. Plus, of course, there's a painting involved.

The only thing missing, and this isn't a complaint, is the bizarre little visits to the Vatican. From reading Silva novels, I would think that no intelligence operation has a chance of success unless it involves a painting (usually a fake) and the Catholic Church.

If I never read Daniel Silva before, I'd probably give Portrait of a Spy 4 stars. But the problem is, I've read all of his books, and I've read this same exact plot before, most notably in The Messenger and Moscow Rules.

I usually praise Silva's characters. They're well developed, unique, and have individual personalities. Or at least they were in the first few novels. But over the series, they haven't grown or changed. Gabriel is the exact same person he was over ten books ago in The Kill Artist. Physically and mentally, he's not slowing down or aging. In Portrait of a Spy, he's just going through the motions. He has the same thoughts and has all the same conversations with the same characters. As do all the other characters. Gabriel should be in his sixties. But given how he is portrayed and developed, he might as well be 30. And just how old is Ari Shamron? He's been an agent at least since 1960 when he caught Eichmann. He's been old, fragile, and of ill-health for the last several books, and he no longer serves any purpose.

This time the target is a charismatic Yemeni cleric and former CIA asset, and an expert bomb-maker. They sound like interesting villains, but they're never developed or even appear much in the book. Early on, there's a couple chapters detailing these characters' histories and background, and then other characters talk about how serious a threat they are. But Silva never gives us any scenes with these terrorists to show us why or how they're so ruthless and dangerous. To Silva's credit, the terrorist plot is simple and realistic, detonating bombs across multiple cities. None of the far-fetched, impossibly elaborate schemes of Brad Thor's trash novels.

The terrorists are hiding out in the marshes of Yemen and the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia, two of the most inhospitable regions on Earth and locations most people haven't seen or are even familiar with. But most of Silva's novel is spent in European luxury hotels, fine restaurants, and auction houses.

Another problem is the trade craft and details of intelligence work. The intelligence operation mounted in this novel is the same exact one used in previous Silva novels, nothing new added. I didn't believe for one moment that Gabriel can so easily recruit the daughter of a man he assassinated and send her willingly on a dangerous undercover operation. I also do not believe American and Israeli agencies would work this closely together. In reality, the US is one of the main targets of Israeli spies. Gabriel Allon making demands (and having them met) of senior CIA officials and the President of the US is completely absurd.

Basically, characters behave implausibly in this novel, so Silva can advanced his tired, old worn-out plot.

On the positive side, Silva's prose is intelligent and literate. He somehow kept me turning the pages, and I read this almost book in one day.

But it's the same Silva story. Nothing new, no surprises. If he actually tried to write something original, I'm sure it'd be 5 stars. If he bothered to write new books, Silva could easily be the best American thriller writer. But rather than come up with a new plot, he'd rather re-write the same story every year.

I don't think I'll spend more money on a new Silva novel though. Why bother? Just read The Messenger, Moscow Rules, The Rembrandt Affair, or Portrait of A Spy and you know what happens.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 27, 2011 7:07 AM BST


A Deniable Death
A Deniable Death
by Gerald Seymour
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Deniable Death, 12 Aug. 2011
This review is from: A Deniable Death (Hardcover)
I cannot praise this book enough. This is a superb novel, and one of Gerald Seymour's best in some time. While I enjoyed all of his novels, his last several books didn't quite warrant a five star rating from me. Some of his more recent books tended to meander and spent way too much time on minor characters and subplots, and tended to go in unlikely directions

But A Deniable Death reads more like classic Seymour from the 1980s. There is an extensive cast of characters, but each is significant to the main plot in they're own way, and each is fully developed. The story is tightly plotted and constructed and gradually generates suspense. It's also timely and original. Everyone hears about the IEDs that have killed and maimed thousands in Iraq, but no one ever really thinks or hears about the civilian engineers and technicians who build those weapons.

Seymour gets into the details of planning and carrying out a covert operation -in this case, the assassination of an Iranian maker of roadside bombs in Iraq- and all the standard thriller elements. But what seperates him from other writers is that he focuses on the various personalities involved in the operation. Each character is a real person, with their own distinctive personality, personal lives, and motivations. And like real human beings, they can also be petty, jealous, self-absorbed, and arrogant, which can have lasting consequences on others. There's no flawless super-hero agent like in so many American author's novels and no evil villain completely lacking in any redeeming or sympathetic qualities.

The senior MI6 officer running the operation, for example, is motivated not by taking out someone responsible for the deaths of so many of his country's soldiers, but by a more personal need to redeem himself and secure his reputation over a miserable failure he oversaw many years earlier.

Two of the main characters spend the majority of the novel in a dug-out hole in marsh reeds watching a house. It speaks volumes of Seymour's abilities as an author that in those scenes of two men laying in the mud, he is able to fully flesh out both men, giving them both qaulities that will make the reader alternate between being sympathetic to the and disliking them, and still hold you in suspense.

The suspense from reading a Gerald Seymour book, and A Deniable Death in particular, is always wondering what characters will live or die, suceed or fail, and how the mission will turn out. Like real life, the outcome is not always what you're hoping for.

After a few disapointing novels, Gerald Seymour is again writing the most consistently entertaining and intelligent thrillers being published and this is his best book in the last decade.


The Gray Man
The Gray Man
by Mark Greaney
Edition: Paperback

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Gray Man, 15 July 2011
This review is from: The Gray Man (Paperback)
Seeing the overwhelming positive reviews and praise for this debut novel from a new author and an interesting plot synopsis, I was excited to read The Gray Man and wondering why it wasn't given a hardcover release if it was so good.

I read the first 200 pages in one sitting. I couldn't put the book down. From the opening in Iraq, the plot immediately held my attention. I kept turning pages because I really wanted to see what happened next. And Court Gentry is a genuinely interesting character and a nice change from the super agent working for the government that are in most thrillers. He's more Jason Bourne than Mitch Rapp. I wanted to learn more about him and why his former employer at the CIA wanted him dead. Mark Greaney doesn't go much into the background information behind Gentry and his history. He saves more details for the sequel.

One good thing about this book is that Greaney does not throw in tons of information to fill up space or slow down the story. He keeps the story moving forward, and the book is very fast paced. Another large plus, is that it's nice to see a thriller, especially from an American author, that does not center around Muslim terrorists.

But the story is the problem with the book. Mainly, the fact that there isn't much of a story. After those first 200 pages, I realized this entire book was going to consist of Court Gentry moving from one location to the next, and fighting a new team of assassins at each location. Until finally, he arrives at his final destination and confronts the villain. It's much like The Bourne Identity (the Matt Damon movie, not the novel). There's plenty of material in there to develop a more intricate plot, but Greaney never really goes anywhere with it, focusing instead on action and more action. This wouldn't have been a problem, but at well over 400 pages, this quickly becomes tiring and repetitive. If a couple of these scenes had been cut or if Greaney had developed a more elaborate storyline to connect these scenes, then I'd probably be giving this book four stars. Fortunately, Greaney does write action scenes pretty well, and it's easy to picture what's taking place, and a couple of the early action scenes are genuinely exiting. But again, there's just too much action crammed into this book, although Greaney thankfully does not go off into Matthew Reilly territory.

On the plus side, Greaney and his character show lots of promise. Given this is a first novel and that Greaney is obviously a talented writer, his storytelling skills will hopefully improve in future installments.

It's by no means a bad book. It is quite entertaining and quick to read, but I prefer a little more in-depth plots in novels.


Against All Enemies
Against All Enemies
by Tom Clancy
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Against All Enemies, 21 Jun. 2011
This review is from: Against All Enemies (Hardcover)
Unlike Dead or Alive, which was also co-authored and whose writing style closely resembled that of Clancy's, Against All Enemies was quite clearly not written by Tom Clancy. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing, given that Clancy's normal style is clunky, wordy, redundant, inefficient, unnecessarily long prose that constantly goes off on completely useless tangents.

Instead the writing is the more lean and straightforward, often showing-rather-than-telling style of most successful commercial fiction thrillers. It fits the book well, since it's very much like those countless other thrillers, with a somewhat generic Navy SEAL/CIA operator taking on armies of terrorists and drug cartel enforcers, with gun battles and assassinations in almost every other chapter and lots of violence, while never becoming overly complex, similar in style to Brad Thor, Vince Flynn, or Alex Berenson.

The book's focus on the drug cartels and the main settings in Mexico are at least refreshing changes from the numerous thrillers with terrorists and Middle East locations.

Clancy/Telep/Putnam's new hero is Max Moore, a Navy SEAL/CIA veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan assigned to a task force targeting a Mexican drug cartel leader. Moore is never fully developed and, unlike Clancy's other main characters, doesn't really come across as a real person, despite being given large chunks of back story that are told throughout the novel in brief flashbacks. He's just another special forces action hero with little personality, and the book never really gets into his thoughts. None of the other characters particularly stand out either, which is unfortunate since there are so many of them, and it makes it a bit difficult at times to recall who's who and what their relationship to other characters is.

The other major downside is that the book is a bit too long. The plot is not that complex or intricate, and this story could have been told in a lot fewer pages. But it still held my attention throughout and was a very fast read. There were perhaps too many unnecessary action scenes that did nothing to advance the plot, but most of these are pretty brief.

Overall the book holds up as a quality and above average thriller. There are a couple minor moments scatered throughout the book that aren't entirely consistent with reality, but the story is plausible and follows a believable chain of events, without delving into comic book territory or relying on implausible plot twists, like so many of these types of books tend to do.

While not up to Clancy's usual standards (or even the standards of the co-authored Dead or Alive), Against All Enemies is still just as a good anything by Brad Thor or Vince Flynn. A fun, readable, but not exceptional thriller. If you just care about reading an entertaining book, than you can do much worse than Against All Enemies.


Rogue Warrior: Dictator's Ransom
Rogue Warrior: Dictator's Ransom
by Richard Marcinko
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.56

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rogue Warrior: Dictator's Ransom, 13 May 2011
The first two Rogue Warrior novels written by/with Jim DeFelice were practically unreadable. Incoherent plots that jump all over the place. Horrible writing. Politically correct. None of the in-depth operational detail from the original Weisman novels. Just embarrassingly bad.

But Dictator's Ransom had positive reviews, so I gave it a try and was pleasantly surprised. It turned out to be one of the best novels in the series. This time around, Marcinko is recruited by the CIA for a mission in North Korea, and he gets involved in a plot involving Kim Jong-Il's kidnapped son, nuclear weapons, the Chinese, the Russians, and the region on the brink of war.

While nowhere near the same level as John Weisman's Rogue novels, the geopolitical analysis and details of operations are definitely more sophisticated than the previous two entries (although these books for the most part shouldn't be taken too seriously, of course). The story is coherent and stays on track. The attempts at humor are actually funny. The action is well-written and vividly described.

Overall, it's just a really fast, entertaining read.


The Man from Barbarossa
The Man from Barbarossa
by John Gardner
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Man From Barbarossa, 13 May 2011
John Gardner's Bond novels received pretty mixed reactions from Bond fans, and I can understand people's disappointment if they read his books expecting a big adventure like the Bond movies or the original Fleming novels. The majority of Gardner's novels don't follow the standard Bond formula. Rather than have Bond investigate some billionaire whose planning something evil, Gardner frequently has Bond embroiled in complex espionage plots and pitted against assorted communist agents and terrorists. And instead of describing food and locations in minute detail, Gardner gives details of real-life intelligence agencies, weapons, tradecraft, and the political climate of the time.

All of these elements are especially evident in The Man From Barbarossa. Bond is reluctantly assigned to an operation run by the KGB, along with Israeli and French agents. Posing as a camera crew set to film a mock war crimes trial, their mission is to infiltrate of the high echelons of the Scales of Justice, an underground group responsible for spreading a wave of terrorism across the crumbling Soviet Union. Of course, not is all as it seems, and Bond unravels a plot by a rogue Russian general to seize power in the Kremlin and supply Iraq with nuclear weapons on the eve of the First Persian Gulf War, as well as wipe out Washington, DC. Along the way, Bond confronts traitors on his team and a battalion of Russian spetsnaz.

There's very little action in this book, and it all comes at the end of the book. But Gardner still weaves a complex and intriguing plot that slowly unravels and reveals itself through the three hundred pages. While holding the reader's attention, you'll also never really be quite sure where the story is going next and will keep turning the pages to find out what happens next.

On the downside, the characters are not particularly well drawn out. The problem is that there are probably too many characters crammed into too small a book. Most characters simply aren't given enough time to develop or stand out. This is due mostly to the structure of the story. characters come in for a section of the book, then disappear for a large chunk of it, before being re-introduced.

Don't read this book if you're expecting an action-packed James Bond adventure. You will be disappointed. However, if you want a complex Cold War espionage/political thriller (which happens to have a character named James Bond) along the lines of Craig Thomas, then you can do a lot worse than The Man From Barbarossa. Icebreaker; No Deals, Mr Bond; Win, Loose, or Die; and Death is Forever, also by John Gardner, are also worth checking out if you like that type of thing. For more traditional Bond stories, stick to License Renewed and For Special Services.


Last Run, the
Last Run, the
by Greg Rucka
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Last Run, 13 May 2011
This review is from: Last Run, the (Hardcover)
The Queen and Country series of novels is based on a comic book series of the same name. This makes it somewhat ironic that these stories (including the comic book series) are far more grittier and realistic than most any other thrillers on the best seller lists, whose main characters are often superhero agents or soldiers. But there is nothing over-the-top about this series. His characters are imperfect, doubting, fallible human beings, and the missions they undertake are always rooted in intelligence operations more likely to occur in the real world. Even the enemies are not presented as evil villains with no redeemable features.

Greg Rucka weaves a tense, complex, and layered story of espionage and politics out of a seemingly simple plot. In Last Run, it's a covert operation by British intelligence to exfiltrate an agent from Iran. We see this operation unfold every step of the way from the viewpoint of the operators on the ground to the support staff working behind the scenes on both the British and Iranian sides. Despite being an American, Rucka provides a very (seemingly) realistic portrayal of British intelligence, and the subplots with the headquarters staff and bureaucratic infighting read like Gerald Seymour.

Rucka is an immensely talented writer. His pacing and plotting are impeccable. His writing is crisp and tight, always showing instead of telling. His characters are real people. He clearly has an excellent grasp of his subject matter, but doesn't fill pages with unnecessary dumps of information or technical details. While the overall tone and theme of this book indicates it may be Tara Chace's last mission, hopefully he will continue the series in either novel or comic form.


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