Beloved Enemy by Eric Van Lustbader
Beloved Enemy by Eric Van Lustbader (Forge, 2013) is the fifth and final novel featuring Jack McClure and something of a conundrum. The question, always lurking at the back of a reader’s mind is why bother to read this particular book. The answer, of course, is we all travel in hope. Although the majority of books on the market are terrible, the thought this might be the one really good one this month keeps us motivated. Having thought the last book in this series pretty awful, I surprised myself by agreeing to review this. I think it was the news this was to be the final contribution to the series that tipped the scales. Often intermediate books in a series mark time and the best is saved for the last volume when all the loose ends are gathered together and tied up neatly. This allows us thoughtful ones to step back and admire the creativity of the author in having thought up something so ingenious or to walk away shaking our heads even more frustrated we got suckered into reading another one.
So where’s the conundrum? Well everything in a series often stands or falls by the situation at the end. For a moment, let’s think of books which were deeply annoying. Obviously there are so many to choose from but let’s focus on those mysteries or thrillers in which it turns out the hero is a criminal. Specifically, those books in which the detective or first-person narrator admits to one or more murders at the end. Or even worse, where it turns out the first-person narrator is killed in the last line. This runs so contrary to expectations that such books are either hailed as classics (like some by Agatha Christie) or they have been consigned to the pile of books we wish we’d never read. So when we start off reading this book, Jack is meeting with Dennis Paull, the Secretary of Homeland Security. They think there’s a mole at the highest level of the US Administration. Paull has a lead and passes the information over to Jack. The same night, Paull is murdered and Jack framed. He must therefore go on the run in the hope of clearing his name and identifying the mole.
This takes us first to Bangkok and then to Switzerland. On the way, we get to meet up with Jack’s (ex)lover, Annika Dementieva, and Iraj Namazi, aka The Syrian an all-round bad guy who’s actually having trouble accessing his money and so finds his influence slipping a little. I suppose the first thing to complain about is the extraordinary way in which our hero is able to fly out of America. You would think with all the security around airports, it would be next to impossible for anyone to get on the to tarmac and then from a cargo warehouse on to the right plane while it’s waiting for taxi clearance. But, with the help of a tiger, our hero makes it look easy. Don’t ask. It’s completely absurd. However this sets the trend for the rest of the book. There’s an escalating trail of violence as the pursuit of our hero is picked up by an “assassin”. As in the previous volume, there’s an amazing amount of brutality with our hero killing one of the people attacking him and seriously messing up the assassin’s shoulder with a knife. Fortunately, the assassin is impervious to pain and can continue the pursuit after a few well-placed stitches are inserted. The helper never did learn to bounce properly when dropped from a tall building. In due course there’s a lot more mayhem as, amongst other things, our hero is almost cooked in a sunbed and finds that jumping on to a helicopter in flight is actually quite a tricky thing to manage.
Meanwhile back in Washington, the powers-that-be suspect each other and generally run around like headless chickens. In various places Annika and The Syrian dance around each other in mutual distrust until, quite near the end, all the interested parties come together to debate who should have access to the legacy left by Annika’s grandfather — the McGuffin that’s been driving the series from the word go. Now any sensible reader is going to look at the title and understand the point of the book is that Jack and Annika, having been lovers in previous books, will get back together again. All we have to do is wait to see precisely how the stars will align to make the old romance blossom again. As to what happens. . . Well let’s just say it was not quite the plot twist I was expecting. Of course one way of interpreting it would be that the world will now be a somewhat safer place although we’re left uncertain as to the mechanics. The other way of seeing it would be that Annika’s grandfather was a better judge of character than we realised.
So there you have it. I thought Beloved Enemy painfully silly and the ending rather annoying. But if you like people running around doing thriller things, shooting at each other and fighting hand-to-hand, this is for you.
For a review of the last in the series see, Father Night.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.