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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Ride, 1 May 2012
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This review is from: Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves: A Scarecrow Novel (The Scarecrow Series Book 5) (Kindle Edition)
This is a definite return to form for Matt Reilly. After a series of enjoyable, ultra high-octane novels, including Ice Station and Area 7, most of which featured Shane 'Scarecrow' Schofield, Reilly switched to a new series featuring Jack West Jr. I struggled through the first of this new series, Seven Ancient Wonders (Jack West Junior 1) and then gave up. Simplistic and childish, they had all the worst bits of Reilly's writing (concepts so implausible as to be laughable) and none of the good bits (genuinely heart pounding action with life and death consequences). It seemed that Reilly had decided to aim for the tween-fiction market and only a short story featuring Schofield, Hell Island (Quick Reads), hinted that he might still have more adult fare in him.

So I approached his first Shane Schofield novel since Scarecrow with some trepidation. The reviews on Amazon were uniformly positive, but then so were those for the Shane West Jr. series. Would Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves hark back to the high point of Ice Station, or would it be another treasure hunt filled with asinine concepts such as 747s that could take off vertically and magical crystals? I will confess that the somewhat stupid title didn't fill me with confidence.

It turns out that I needn't have worried. Whilst it doesn't have the same impact as Ice Station, Army of Thieves is easily on a par with Area 7 & Scarecrow or Temple and Contest, two non-Schofield novels. It doesn't come out of the gate at the same pace as some of Reilly's other novels, but once the action get's going it really never lets up for more than a moment or two. Its also pretty brutal action at times, with scenes of torture and some pretty unpleasant deaths. This is definitely not a book for kids; although I'm sure your average male teenager would love it.

Of course its never going to be mistaken for great literature, but that's never been the appeal of a Matt Reilly book. Instead they're all about the rush and Army of Thieves provides plenty of that. It also manages, for the most part and unlike the Jack West series, to stay just the right side of ridiculous and to not push the laws of physics too far past breaking point (although there is an avoidable howler involving sea pressure crushing a flooded object that made me shake my head in despair). You don't want to think about the plot too deeply for fear that it will quickly unravel but it just about holds together whilst you're reading the book.

Character-wise its good to have Scarecrow and Mother back, and the supporting cast generally aren't too shabby either. As with most Reilly books those destined to die are relatively easy to spot from the get go (hint: they get very few or no lines and the barest of development) but its more about how they'll meet their makers and when than who they are. By killing a major recurring character in a very brutal way back in Scarecrow, Reilly has also succeeded in leaving a question-mark hanging nearly every character's head, which increases the overall sense of jeopardy.

The bad guys are also nicely boo-hissbable. There are plenty of anonymous henchmen for the good guys to use as target practise and the ring leaders are distinctive, ruthless and talented enough to stand out and pose a genuine threat to Schofield and his team.

Finally, and remarkably, Reilly manages to create a robot character who is in no way annoying. After the cute kids that infested the Jack West series I feared that the robot was simply there to pander to the kids and add extra cuteness to proceedings, but again I needn't have worried. Its presence might be slightly laughable but its definitely not there for comic relief.

All I can hope now is that Reilly sticks to what he does best and we don't have to wait so long for the next Shane Schofield adventure. With a few plot threads left hanging at the end of Army of Thieves it would appear that Scarecrow will ride again.
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Location: Quenington, Glos, UK

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