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Beloved Enemy by Eric Van Lustbader

Beloved-Enemy-A-Jack-McClure-Novel-Jack-McClure-All-311170-0402845eab65ea203cbe

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.

Eric van Lustbader

Eric van Lustbader

 

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.

 

Father Night by Eric Van Lustbader

Father Night

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.

Eric van Lustbader keeps his hands warm next to a cold tree

Eric van Lustbader keeps his hands warm next to a cold tree

 

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.

 

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