08 October 2012

Terrorists from different angles

Thriller | Kyle Mills / Stella Rimington | Fade / At Risk

OK, this one is going to be fast, as I've got to write three more (what a nice problem to have!). I'll write about Horizon by Lois McMaster Bujold later this week.

Fade by Kyle Mills is about an ex-Navy SEAL (USA) named Salam Al Fayed. He was named Fade because he could fade into the background, and because nobody in the rest of the team wanted their back to be had by someone named Al Fayed. Somewhere early in the book we get to know that Al Fayed is a second-generation American of Christian Arab parents. That made me wonder if a Muslim Arab in the same situation would not have become a SEAL, or whether some marketing person said the novel wouldn't fly in the market.

Okay, okay, you want to know what happened to Fade. Fade did all kinds of assassination missions for the CIA, until he was finally shot in the back. The bullet lodged near his spine. His best friend, Matt Egan, tried to get him some experimental surgery, which the bureaucracy couldn't process. Bitter, Fade worked for some Columbian drug barons as an enforcer, to get the money to pay for the operation, but by the time the bullet was inoperable.

In terror of falling down dead any day, he starts making furniture (of all things) for a living. Until Matt's new boss in Homeland Security (CIA not happy with Matt, so he has to move) decides to form a new crack team, and decides Fade can be induced to join up by getting threatened with jail time for the drug stuff. Voila: an anonymous tip to the police.

Enter Karen Manning, a SWAT team leader whose boss is convinced that a woman in that position is a big mistake and seems to dedicate his life to running her out or running her down, whichever works when he gets up in the morning.

Karen's team hits Fade's house to arrest him, and he thinks Homeland Security is there to kill him. Uh oh.

Now Fade is on the run, hunted by all, Karen is thrown to the media wolves, well muzzled herself, and Matt and Hillel Strand (the boss) are on Fade's shortlist of people whose lives he must shorten immediately. Karen is trying to protect her reputation, Matt his family, and Hillel his career. Fade is just trying to kill Matt and Strand and then himself.

So they now all try to do the right thing by their own lights, and very different lights these are.

The bad guys get their comeuppance, is all I'm going to say, since you expect that. As to the good guys, they get different kinds of resolution each.

Read and enjoy!

Oh, wait there is At Risk to tell you about, too. I promised terrorists from different angles, didn't I? Stella Rimington's qualifications to tell this story are that she used to be M, the head of MI5. Okay, she was never called M, but the James Bond on-screen boss became a woman around the time Dame Stella became head of MI5 (I'm not 100% sure she is a Dame, but hey, artistic license, and you can google, too, if you try). So that means that you won't get any really stupid bloopers, the type that have real agents rolling on the floor, laughing their heads off.

There are different terrorists, here, not the fake ones of Fade where venal careerists manipulate who gets called a terrorist. The ones in At Risk include a Pakistani-trained import into the UK, and a home grown 'invisible'. Clues creep in to indicate something big is going down. The forces of law and order get unexpected help from a greedy people-runner who thinks the new illegal immigrant can be easily robbed. His lesson otherwise lasts only a millisecond. Now the police are after our friend the terrorist. And the 'invisible' woman. And I always thought you couldn't have a truly silenced gun. Live and learn.

Of course that's not a spoiler! Bah, you can read the back cover.

Now, Liz Carlyle of MI5 and her surprisingly supportive boss (most such books have the protagonist trying to outsmart their boss as well) are trying to track down the villains. Yet the villains are smart, too. And committed. The 'invisible', who grew up a rebellious teen from a broken home, finds her true faith in Islam, converts, and then concludes the world is too bad and needs improvement. OK, she's a Pakistan-trained terrorist, too. (Oh, come on, less of the 'spoiler' howls, this is less than a quarter of the way through the book., and it's not like I told you her name and you went and checked her facebook profile. Sheesh). Step by step, all the people involved go down the paths of their own choices and the destinies they thereby choose.

Liz is 'assisted' by a flashy MI6 compatriot, Bruno Mackay, who fancies himself a romantic seducer, and completely rubs her the wrong way in many head-shaking ways.

And of course, as you might expect, they all conclude the terrorists will attack the wrong target. Last minute breakthroughs mean that England continues to be safe. Yay and all that.

This book is different from most thrillers. There's no shortage of the usual stuff: characterisation, building up motives, and the most obvious of villains (Islamic terrorists have completely supplanted communist Russians). Yet, the story has a steady, relentless pace--no terrific suspense scenes, just a systematic unfolding of the uncovering of the plot. It's not breathless, yet it's not leisurely. You feel for the characters, all of them, even the terrorists. Yet black is never whitened and white is not black. It's got several tropes in it, yet is more than the tropes.

Yes, it could happen this way. It may well have, in many ways. The novel has a real presence that most writers cannot manage. Maybe Frederick Forsyth, but maybe not even him.

I don't think S Rimington will write a whole lot of other novels. She's not a professional novelist, after all. And that's a real shame. I'd read more about Liz Carlyle any day. Or any other agent.

Read and enjoy!

TL;DR: Fade has the better dialogues, and the appallingly cynical look at reality that comes with such a person's background. It has friends, and good guys and bad guys. At Risk lets you feel the mud and sea spray, and you know it could well happen this way in real life. You get not the whole persons, but the slice of their life when this event happened.

And the bad guys lose and all questions are answered. What more do you want?

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