21 August 2012

A Spree of Thrillers

Thrillers | David Baldacci, Anthony Horowitz | Hell's Corner, First Family, True Blue, The Whole Truth, Skeleton Key, The Innocent

This has been a spree of thrillers. I started with David Baldacci's Hell's Corner (covered in the last post), then, in close succession, I read his First Family, True Blue, The Whole Truth and The Innocent, and re-read Anthony Horowitz's Skeleton Key in between.

So, Hell's Corner, I deemed to be an excellent addition to the Camel Club series, much better than the previous one in the series, Divine Justice. You can skip over the latter when reading the series which not much loss, unless you are a diehard fan or something.

First Family features Michelle Maxwell and Sean King, ex-Secret Service agents who are now into detectiving in the private sector. Of the two, Michelle is the one who kicks backsides, and King is the one who does sidekick duty. Not surprising, really, when you consider that every single one of D Baldacci's books is dedicated 'to Michelle'. (I feel so clever at finally picking that up). The book features the abduction of the President's wife's niece, the day of her 12th birthday party at Camp David. The President's wife gets Maxwell and King in, thanks to King's knowing the girl's mother, who's been killed during the kidnapping. In true Baldacci style, we switch between the abductor and the detectives. The niece is the only abductee (there is an adult, too) who has the guts and the intelligence to attempt a breakout. Which fails. In the meantime, M&K are getting closer and closer. And for a change, a whole bunch of agencies is helping them out. The motive remains obscure till just about a few millimeters from the end of the book (your page thickness may vary). The truly perfidious villains get their due comeuppance.

Somewhere in there, the character of Michelle Maxwell, and her motivations, gets further developed, and she has to face loss and suspicion in her own family. This theme is built upon further in the next book in the series, The Sixth Man (about which I have written in an earlier post; this is what comes of reading series out of order).

First Family is a tightly-plotted story, and the denouement is quite satisfactory. Michelle gains more sympathy from the reader in this one. King remains calm and collected.

Since I don't have the book to hand, you'll have to take it from me that the dialogue is crackerjack. I particularly liked the one in which King comments that Maxwell is 'a bit of a show-off' after she kicks a door in.

True Blue continues the theme of tough women with Mace Perry, a cop framed for armed robbery under the influence of drugs, coming out of prison, and with the gracious help of Chief Perry, her sister (ha, betcha didn't see that one coming; huh, you read the blurb), trying to solve assorted murders and get the villains who framed her. To help, she has a lawyer, who falls for her while trying to keep as far away as possible. The problem is, he's a witness to the murder, and a prime suspect. OK, he didn't do it (not a spoiler, dammit, you can read the blurb). Who did it, how and why, is complicated. I suspect it's only in thrillers that things like this happen. Reality is much simpler, if more sordid.

Call it un-feminist of me, but such books (also like Patricia Cornwell's Hornet's Nest and Southern Cross) which feature women police chiefs, don't strike me quite as real. Perhaps the lack of real-life people with adequate fame is the reason.

Anyhow, you can guess she nabs her villain, and that she's the one with commitment issues. I didn't like this one as much as the others in this spree. It simply means it's the last of equals, though. In itself, readable.

The Whole Truth features a troubleshooter from an international police force (fortunately, not named with some cutesy acronym here), with a cutesy name, A Shaw. The first name is A. Shaw loves Anna Fischer, a hotshot analyst deeply, but Nicholas Creel, an arms maker and self-proclaimed visionary, needs a war. I'd have dismissed the whole whip-up-the-masses-via-the-internet as far-fetched if it wasn't for the sobering reality of the Assamese exodus of the past few days. Truth really is stranger than fiction. There is also an ex-Pulitzer Prize winning ex-journo desperately trying to resurrect her career, named Katie James, who gets embroiled in the whole horrible mess. Will it be a spoiler for me to say that the series (there are more after this which I am yet to read) is called the Shaw and Katie James series? OK, I'll refrain from telling you why.

Shaw's emotions are dealt with very well in this book. I wondered many times how they'd actually lay all the crimes to the right door, but they finally did, and not implausibly either. I may point out that books and movies in which the villain is not brought to a court and sentenced to long years in jail or short days before an execution are not my favourites.

Which is why this book ties with First Family in this spree, despite many better elements. Oh, Hell's Corner is still ahead.

And now let us take a short diversion to a re-read of a non-Baldacci thriller,  Anthony Horowitz's Skeleton Key. Skeleton Key is an Alex Rider book. Alex is a reluctant teenage super-spy, who would prefer to be a schoolboy (and every schoolkid who reads these books prefers to be Alex, go figure!), but who is pressed into saving England, the world--and assorted collections in between the two--from evil villains of various stripes. It's not easy writing thrillers for young adults and teens. Which is probably why A Horowitz also wrote the side-splitting Diamond Brothers series in between (ok, not getting side-tracked on how even more difficult it is to write a funny detective series for young adults, in which the detectiving still has to make some kind of (highly convoluted) sense, after all). A Horowitz knows how to do this. How to make his teenage hero ring true, to hold our hands and take us step by step along the frighteningly plausible route to how such a thing could happen. And if he can keep kids hooked, what are you and me (presuming you, too, are an adult) in terms of the challenge level. Nothing. Succumb already.

Skeleton Key is the third book in the series, and I strongly recommend you read the lot. The reason I've read them in order is because I hung around the bookshops and grabbed them as fast as they came out. (The resident teenager was faster, grabbing them off friends in some cases: "Thanks for getting me this book, but I've already read it"). Here, Alex is loaned by the Brits to the CIA (how could they do that to a mere kid??), to investigate a crazy Russian ex-general living in a fortress on the island Skeleton Key. He's just supposed to be cover for the real agents. Yeah, right.

I here go off on a mini-tangent, in which I muse how one of the Modesty Blaise books also had a crazy guy in a fortress on a Caribbean island, and how the two fortresses have so much in common, including difficult approaches and impossible exits.

OK, since I've already recommended this book to you strongly, I may just warn you that the guy who wrote the Diamond Brothers series introduces in this book a chewed gum called Bubble-o seven (groan) and a heroine named Sabina Pleasure (louder groans). There is action under the Wimbledon courts, on a surfed wave, under the warm ocean, and aboard the Russian President's plane (how come Russian Presidents get such bad casting in American and British novels? But I'm jumping to the next post too early).

I may warn you that the books get grimmer as the series proceeds, but A Horowitz leaves tiny loopholes of hope at the end of each. Actually, I for one don't want to be Alex Rider at all, by now. Poor kid. Fantastic books.

And now the train reaches the last book in this spree, A Baldacci's The Innocent. In internal ranking among Baldaccis in this spree, this one tops. I liked it better than Hell's Corner, which is saying something. (I think it is saying that A Baldacci retains his touch :).

Will Robie is an assassin working for the government (trope, you groan). True. He gets an assignment to kill a woman who works for the same government. He's being framed. Trope, you groan again. Yeah, yeah, hang around. While running to escape being killed himself, he runs into a teenager whose parents have just been murdered in front of her, and who is running too. OK, switching verbs (enough of a run there), Robie rescues the girl, but the bus they were on is blown up. Someone is after something big. But is it Julie Getty they are after or W Robie? And can he trust the 'superagent' from the FBI? And what the hell are the villains really after? Oh, right, forgot to tell you, his agency brings him into the investigation of the original murder, the one he was supposed to do, in case you think the plot isn't convoluted enough. And we're still only a quarter of the way in.

This is one turny-twisty story, with the trademark Baldacci surprises along the way, right to the very end. The public is going to be clamouring for a series on this one, to be sure.

Have fun with all the books in the spree. All enjoyable and recommended.

(Oh, and the red 'Read!' stamp in the cover picture? That's me using paint.net to disguise a sticker which I wasn't going to remove, but which may be personally identifying).

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