I discovered Andy McNab quite by accident while wandering through my local library in Hammersmith five or six years ago. Picked up a copy of Bravo Two Zero. Terrific! Read Immediate Action. Excellent. Remote Control. Outstanding. Crisis Four. Phenomenal. I'd read everything McNab had written. Nobody could touch him. Other authors are mere pretenders to the throne. They lack the complex plotting and rush of believable action McNab unleashes in every novel. And now we have Firewall - and it's his best ever, fast paced and impossible to leave alone. I just wanted it to carry on and not stop. I was riveted, grabbed by the scruff of the neck throughout the entire book. More of the same is eagerly awaited, so please note, Mr McNab - no early retirement!
This was the first Andy McNab book I had ever read, and I have to say I had pre-judged Andy McNab and wasn't expecting much. I have to say I was more than pleasantly surprised about how good it was. What I liked about McNab's writing is he brings believable realism to the story, obviously from his experience in the military. He goes in to in depth details about planning operations. In the fights there is no dispatching you enemies here with quick karate chop. It is street fighting of the highest order with head butts eye gouging. His technical knowledge of computing is not as good as his field craft but quite frankly it doesn't really matter it's an excellent read and will have you turning the page. Our hero is the very falliable Nick Stone who is very much at the bottom of the food chain doing what ever he has to in order earn a living and for his survival. Thinking on his feet and trying to stay a couple of steps in front of the bad guys.
For those of you who don't know him, Andy McNab is a former SAS hardman from a troubled background who left the service and wrote Bravo Two Zero; a non-fiction book about his experiences during the first Gulf War. Recently however he's turned his hand to `fictional' thrillers charting the adventures of author-insertion character Nick Stone - a former SAS hardman from a troubled background who left the service to work as a freelance mercenary. Spot the similarities, anyone?
The series got off to a slightly rocky start with Remote Control, much like a relationship begun with a drunken kiss and fumble on a dance floor. Recently however both parties have been spending more time together, getting to know each other better and starting to feel more comfortable.
Right, end of analogy.
It's 1999 and all is not well in Nick Stone's life. After the events of Crisis Four, he's less than popular with The Firm and on the verge of being cut loose. The modest fortune he made in Remote Control is quickly burning away, and Kelley, the foster daughter he took in, is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
With no work from the British government, Stone is forced to take on more dangerous jobs; this time kidnapping a Russian crime lord. However, it's not long before things go wrong, and Stone soon finds himself working for the very man he was hired to abduct. An attempt to infiltrate a computer building in Finland sees Stone's friend and accomplice kidnapped, and he's soon en route to Estonia, where he finds himself caught up in the seedy criminal underworld of the crumbling post-Soviet country as he tries to rescue his comrade, protect vital secrets and make it out in one piece.
McNab has really hit his stride with this novel. He knows his strengths and isn't afraid to play to them. Never a great writer in a technical sense, his style is nonetheless entertaining and effective, and perfectly complements the relentless action. Laced with profanity and witty observations, you feel more like you're sharing a couple of pints with him at his local pub than reading a novel.
Also, bearing in mind his past and the clarity with which he describes fights, you can't help but feel this isn't really a work of fiction. When he talks about stabbing a man to death or the best way to kill someone using a hammer, you get the feeling he's actually done it all for real.
Full marks have to go to him for characterisation. Nick Stone is no James Bond or Jason Bourne. There are no clever gadgets to help him out, no beautiful women swarming over him, no sophisticated villains playing a game of cat and mouse with him. He's a man forced to rely on his fists and intelligence in equal measure, often engaging in fights where sheer resilience and determination are the deciding factors. He's resourceful and quick witted, but he also makes mistakes, and often pays dearly for them.
That being said, there are a few points that let this book, and the Nick Stone series in general, down. The first is the formula that most of them follow. It's pretty much guaranteed that the attractive woman he makes contact with will know more than she lets on, and that the people who send him on his mission will betray him at some point. The second gripe is the sheer unlikelihood of Stone's survival, considering how often he screws things up. Every time he gets captured or taken hostage, his captors never actually think to kill him. Instead they simply bundle him up in the back of a car or a warehouse or whatever, always giving him plenty of opportunities to escape.
And although it's interesting to learn more about the practical aspects of his craft (anti-surveillance drills, operational security and so on), none of it seems to have any real benefit to Stone. Enemies always find a way to get to him whenever it's appropriate to the plot, which feels like a bit of a cheat.
Still, criticising Firewall over such minor gripes is like criticising the Great Wall of China for not having a karaoke bar. This a solid, fast-paced and enjoyable thriller, and if you enjoy gritty realism and hard-hitting action, you'll love Firewall.
No matter how strong the plot, if the prose style is deficient then you're looking at a bad book. Likewise, a fairly flimsy plot can be brought to life by an entertaining style of writing. This is exactly what happens here. Andy McNab will probably be the first person to admit that he's not inviting comparisons with Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy as an author. However what he does, he does extremely well: - espionage thrillers with lots of "insider" details concerning spy-craft, well written action sequences (something that Tom Clancy could learn a thing or two about), a central character who is all the more believable due to his flaws (once again Mr Clancy, please take note). No, it's unlikely to ever be considered "great literature" but Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories were seen in the same way when first published. They are now regarded as the foremost examples of the detective genre. McNab's books will, I believe, receive similar "serious" recognition once the literati critics get used to the idea of ex-soldiers writing novels. If you're looking for a book that will change your life & make you see the world differently, the you'll be disappointed with this. However, if you're in the market for a tightly written thriller with enough suspense to make you want to keep turning the pages right until the end (where you'll find a twist that may raise a smile), then this will fit the bill better than most. Buy this book, open a can of beer, put your feet up & take the phone off the hook. You will not want to be disturbed!