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Some inconsistencies with previous books but another interesting plot
on 13 June 2007
For this story to work, Alan Blunt, the head of MI6 has to not believe Alex when he suggests that the pop star Damian Cray is responsible. Given that Alex has worked for him 3 times and come up trumps each time, for Alan Blunt (a character we know to be suspicious and manipulative) to be so dismissive seems rather OOC. I had been hoping that there would have been a deliberate reason for this (i.e. Blunt was deliberately being dismissive in order to provoke Alex into investigating under his own auspices), but Horowitz makes it clear that this is not the reason and I think that's a big missed opportunity.
The big villain in the story is Damian Cray, a Buddhist pop star and charity worker who's something of a cross between Elton John, Bob Geldoff and Bono. This is the first villain in the series that I've totally loved because Horowitz is making such a tongue-in-cheek reference that it's something an adult can really enjoy. Cray still suffers from Bond villain syndrome - an overly grandiose plan and being nuttier than a fruitcake - but at least his plan was well thought out (involving nuclear explosions and Air Force One).
I also enjoyed the fact that Horowitz brings back Yassen Gregorovich as Cray's henchman and this time, weaves the Russian assassin into the backstory of the Rider family and sets up Alex for the next book, Scorpia. There's a tiny nitpick regarding Gregorovich's motivation - we're told that he would never be able to bring himself to kill Alex because of his friendship with Alex's father, and yet this friendship does not seem to have stopped him whacking Alex's Uncle Ian in Stormbreaker.
The plot moves quickly and the set-piece action scenes are pretty exciting. I was particularly intrigued by the scenes in the Amsterdam factory where Cray has set up a real life mock up for his computer game Gameslayer One: Feathered Serpant and the fact that Cray uses it to kill people just so that he can electronically copy the facial expressions to make the game more realistic. I did think that it was a shame for Horowitz to lever in the gadgets (although it is in character for Smithers to send something to help Alex and for Mrs Jones to want him to have some help) because I'd have liked to see what Alex could do without them, but the way the bike was used was effective and very visual.