The Operative by Duncan Falconer

Cover of "The Operative"
The Operative

Another novel I picked up at random, The Operative is the first book I’ve read by Duncan Falconer and I doubt it’ll be the last. As an ex-SBS operative, he’s going to get the inevitable comparisons to Andy McNab but in my opinion he’s better.

It’s a fairly standard army-based thriller with a loner combatant ending up using his skills (explosives, in this case) outside of the war zone to help resolve a personal conflict. The level of technical detail is just about right – not too much to sound like the author’s showing off, not too little to make it sound like he read it somewhere and is shoe-horning it in.

I’d put it at around the level of Jerry Bruckheimer for believability – and also enjoyability. There’s plenty of destruction, the bad guys (of course) get their’s and the FBI and CIA end up at each other’s throats.

Granted, it’s all silly – but the important thing is that it’s entertainingly silly and easy to read. I know Falconer has a couple of other books out and I’ll be checking for them in the second hand places once I’ve ditched a few from the pile I’m already carrying.

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The Firm by John Grisham

Film poster for The Firm (1993 film) - Copyrig...
The Firm

Possibly the most famous of Grisham’s books and about the last one I have to read, The Firm was also a big film in the 90’s. I went to the cinema to see it, but don’t remember that much as I was too busy sucking face with my first girlfriend at the time.

The novel is typically Grisham. All legal then turning into a fast-paced thriller. A young lawyer gets a deal he can’t resist to join a small legal firm which turns out to have a few skeletons in the closet. Going through the novel I couldn’t help picturing Tom Cruise as the central character – I think he was a good choice for the film.

It’s hard to say any more without giving up the plot. It’s well-written, well-structured and well-paced. The dialogue is good and if you’ve read any other Grisham novels then you’ll know what to expect. I just wish he’d stick to the legal thrillers and dispense with books like A Painted House.

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The Lesson of her Death by Jeffrey Deaver

In a month that brought us the staggering news of a Ben Stiller film that I actually found funny, we’ve also struck another anomoly: a Jeffrey Deaver novel that’s really just not very good at all.

The Lesson of Her Death is, frankly, a bit of a mess. Deaver doesn’t know whether to make it a procedural crime novel, a murder mystery, a teen angst book or a soap opera. As a result it doesn’t do any of the jobs particularly well.

It’s a simple enough plot and potentially more enjoyable if one strand (perhaps two) could have been picked and stuck to. As it is, far too much detail is given to what should have been background detail and the whole thing is just too wordy. The pacing is all over the shop with momentum coming in spurts rather than driving the reader on to “just one more chapter” as the other Deaver novels I’ve read.

If you’ve got an urge to read a very simple whodunnit (with a pretty awful, Star Trek:TNG-esque “let’s just throw something in we didn’t bother to mention earlier” ending) wrapped up in a story about a little girl’s learning disabilities (which, although interesting in a way, lend nothing at all to the story in the long run) then go ahead. Otherwise, he’s written countless other books which are far more deserving of your time.

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The General’s Daughter by Nelson DeMille

The General’s Daughter is the second DeMille book I’ve read and it’s on a par with Word of Honour though somewhat different. Told in the first person it’s a military criminal thriller with some excellent dialogue. There is a film version which was enjoyable enough, but it couldn’t capture this writing style.

At it’s heart, this is a simple whodunnit. Facts are revealed in the twisty plot as the easily-read chapters go by. There’s even space in the background for a rather amusing romantic entanglement between the two lead investigators which generates some of the best snippets of writing.

It does get a little convoluted with the vast numbers of characters and suspects, but the pace doesn’t let up as a deadline is introduced to the case early on.

I think I enjoyed Word of Honour more, but the writing here did make me laugh at times. I’ve got another DeMille on my pile which I’m still looking forward to.

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Five Weeks in a Balloon by Jules Verne

Cover of Five Weeks in a Balloon
Cover of Five Weeks in a Balloon

Five Weeks in a Balloon was in the same volume as Around The World in Eighty Days and was Verne’s first published work. You can tell that it’s by the same author due to the attention to detail, masses of geographical and scientific data and style of writing dialogue.

However, it’s obviously not as polished as his later works. It does labour quite a bit and gets buried under its own source material. Maybe it’s simply that I’ve not been to Africa (other than Nigeria) where the novel is set, or that the Africa of today bears virtually no resemblance to the one of the mid-19th Century when the novel is set. I don’t know, but it just didn’t grab me the same way that Around The World did.

The characters in it are fairly recognisable. We have a clever doctor who invents the balloon of the title and a manservant who gets them out of scrapes while being utterly devoted to him and also the the other “gentleman” aboard who is a skilled hunter. In a way it reminds me of the cast of Conan Doyle‘s The Lost World gelled with that of Verne’s own Around The World.

It’s still enjoyable, though limited in scope by the very centrpiece – the balloon in which they are carried. Of course, the randomness of air currents is a superb tool for an author. Even sticking within nature’s rules, air currents are tremendously fickle so can chop, change or disappear entirely at the writer’s will.

Oh, don’t read this if you’re American as the infamous “n” word appears multiple times to describe the inhabitants of the continent. For those of you wanting to hunt down and kill Mr Verne for his terrible racist attitute, please remember he was writing in an era when this word was utterly acceptable (or at least when everyone was racist)… and he’s been dead since 1905.

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