Father Night by Eric Van Lustbader
Father Night by Eric Van Lustbader (Forge, 2012) is the fourth in the Jack McClure/Alli Carson series. This book harks back to First Daughter where Alli Carson, daughter of the newly elected president, is kidnapped and has to be rescued by McClure, an ATF agent called in to work with the Secret Service. The key to understanding McClure is his dyslexia which he’s overcome in a way that allows him a slightly different way of viewing the world and solving puzzles. When he rescues Alli, she becomes his surrogate daughter and starts working with him as a spy. In Last Snow, the duo is joined by Annika Dementiev, the Russian granddaughter of crime boss Dyadya Gourdjiev. To show you the female side gets good representation in these books, Jack’s dead daughter Emma keeps putting in appearances and offers advice from “beyond”. Having dealt with an outbreak of the slave trade in Blood Trust, we start off this episode with Alli receiving a threat based on her kidnap experience — this coincides with the formation of a special operations group featuring Dennis Paull, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Nona Hendryx and Alan Frain — while Jack and Annika find themselves pitched into battles to keep her grandfather alive.
The best way to approach this latest instalment is to assume this will be non-stop action. I mean this not in an entirely unkind way. Thrillers set on a world stage are expected to zip around the globe while our main characters fight off attacks from all-comers. It’s just that this book has more fights per square inch than there are angels on a pinhead. What makes this all the more remarkable is that no matter how many times our primary protagonists get hit, they bounce right back up and hit back. If the assorted heavies take out the artillery, bullets will zip by and there will be explosions but, for the most part, the passage of the bullets is noted and fire is returned, or they knock the dust off, look at the blazing wreckage of the vehicle they were recently driving, and go looking for someone to hit. This is not to say the descriptions of the fights are unrealistic. They see stars when hit, crunch when they fall to the ground, and wonder they are still able to function. If this only happened intermittently, we might suspend some degree of disbelief. But the fights keep on coming and our heroes are all relatively unscathed. This is not to deny some of the slightly less major players get bent round the edges and one or two are shot or strangled. When you’re dealing with properly trained killers, you would expect them to land blows and get in a clean shot every now and then. It’s just that, after a time, the repetition wears you down and I stopped caring.
Then we get to the plot. This is one of these conspiracies within conspiracies stories as everyone has an agenda. One of the best pieces of advice you can ever take to heart is KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid!). Sadly, Eric Van Lustbader thinks the best plot is one of increasing complexity as new information reveals yet more angles to the triangle. I was not unhappy when Jack and Annika get caught up in trying to protect Dyadya Gourdjiev. Indeed, set-pieces as on the circus train are well done, but they are portrayed in a vacuum without consequences. It seems death-by-elephant does not provoke death-by-machine-gun for everyone on the train whether at the time (these are trained goons — how can they not shoot the rampaging beasts?) or during the rest of the book. It’s wholly unbelievable the crime bosses would not retaliate against the circus folk. And this fits the more general pattern. Our heroes are hit but not hurt. People helping them get hit and, for the most part, escape with their lives. This means the plot can only develop by pulling more and more rabbits out of the hat. It was when we got into territory mapped out in The Boys From Brazil (1976) by Ira Levin that I completely lost patience. I got to the end of the book because that’s my job. But the way the strands are left hanging for the next in the series just shows we can expect more of the same plot idiocy as the new player, provocatively known as The Syrian, steps forward to signpost where we will go in the next exciting episode.
So there you have it. Father Night is exciting for about fifty pages and then slowly grows repetitive and ponderous as absurdities are piled on absurdities. Although, given this author’s popularity, perhaps this is what you like. If so, here’s more of the same and I confirm it’s a real page-turner, full of adrenaline-soaked excitement right up to and including the last full-stop.
For a review of the final book in the series, see Beloved Enemy.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.