The Golden Rendezvous


Title:                      The Golden Rendezvous

Author:                 Alistair MacLean

MacLean, Alistair (1962). The Golden Rendezvous. Garden City, NY: Doubleday

LCCN:    62011461

Z4.M1626 Go2

Date Updated:  November 17, 2015

Alistair MacLean, one of the premier adventure storywriters, is at his best when writing first-person narratives that put his protagonists in perilous situations, and then push them to the limits of physical, emotional, and psychological endurance. His early novels are exciting, full of cliff-hanging situations, and rife with clever “detection” in the classical sense: MacLean plays by the classical detective rules, placing all of the clues in front of the reader, and, at his most cunning, daring the reader to figure out who the criminal mastermind is.

But the detection, and the undertones of “espionage”, are superficial elements used to keep the narrative moving briskly along between action set pieces that pit the protagonist against impossible odds and, very often, against the severest imaginable environmental extremes. By these standards, The Golden Rendezvous is one of his better books.

It is an excellent blend of mystery, suspense, clever bluffs and double bluffs, self-deprecating wit, action, and our protagonist’s determined efforts to overcome painful injuries and antagonistic environmental extremes.

A luxury cruise ship is hijacked at sea by a master criminal whose intention is not a simple ransoming of the wealthy hostages on board. Exactly what his goal is forms part of the mystery that is left for our hero, the injured first officer of the ship, John Carter, to ferret out, and to undermine.

The Golden Rendezvous finds MacLean at near-top form. The book does not have quite the verve of The Satan Bug, The Dark Crusader, or When Eight Bells Toll, but it comes close. Which, at the high level that MacLean delivers excitement and page-turning suspense, makes for outstanding adventure story reading.

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The Collectors


Title:                      The Collectors

Author:                                David Baldacci

Baldacci, David (2006). The Collectors. New York: Warner Books

LCCN:    2006010986

PS3552.A446 C65 2006

Summary

  • “The assassination of the Speaker of the House sets the members of the Camel Club in a race to prevent a silent yet bloody coup in Washington”–Provided by the publisher

Subjects

Date Updated:  November 12, 2015

The four disillusioned, aging gentlemen featured in Baldacci’s 2005 best-seller, The Camel Club, return in this engaging offering. The ringleader of the eccentric Washington, D.C., group (comprised of obsessive-compulsive computer-whiz Milton Farb, decorated Vietnam vet Rueben Rhodes, and slightly rumpled library-scholar Caleb Shaw) is an ex-CIA conspiracy theorist who goes by the pseudonym Oliver Stone. All are reunited when Shaw’s boss, the Library of Congress’ director of Rare Books and Special Collections,
is found dead. Why was he killed? Might it have been for possession of a rare collection of Puritan psalms?

Meanwhile, a few hundred miles away, sexy scam artist Annabelle Conroy avenges her mother’s death with a fiendishly clever con pulled on a nefarious Atlantic City casino
magnate. Though his two plots converge in a rather contrived way, Baldacci delivers crisp, economical prose and a cast of spies, misfits, and assassins that would make even the most patriotic citizen question the American political system. The best of the characters include gorgeous, gutsy newcomer Annabelle and the wonderfully idiosyncratic Stone, who spends many a day camped out on the lawn across from the White House with a sign that says, “I want the truth.”

The Bourne Supremacy


Title:                      The Bourne Supremacy

Author:                 Robert Ludlum

Ludlum, Robert (1986). The Bourne Supremacy. Franklin Center, PA: Franklin Library

LCCN:    87100059

PS3562.U26 B68 1986c

Subjects

Date Updated:  November 10, 2015

I’ve enjoyed the Bourne series. I’ve enjoyed the movie versions less. As good an actor that Matt Damon is he is not convincing to me as representing the character in the book. This second in the Bourne series, The Bourne Supremacy, is a head-spinning, spine-jolting, intricately mystifying, Armageddonish, in short Ludlumesque, thriller.

A Beijing leader of seemingly irreproachable reputation, secretly a Guomintang fanatic, has masterminded a plot to take over Hong Kong via political assassination, the result of which would be civil war in China and possibly global disaster. His principal agent is an assassin-for-hire masquerading as the legendary “Jason Bourne,” a one-time secret U.S. agent now, under his real name David Webb, struggling with the aid of a psychiatrist and his loving wife Marie to recover from amnesia.

Only one man can destroy the conspiracy: Webb, who must be persuaded to re-assume his Bourne identity, track down the impostor and through him lay a trap for the vile Shengthe “persuasion” to be by way of his abducted wife. The action jolts from the back alleys of Hong Kong and Kowloon to a secret government complex in the Colorado mountains to the seats of power in Beijing and even the interior of Mao’s tomb. Every chapter ends with a cliff-hanger; the story brims with assassination, torture, hand-to-hand combat, sudden surprise and intrigue within intrigue.

KIRKUS REVIEW[1]

Great Christian Jesus!. . .He’s come back. The assassin has come back to Asia! Jason Bourne! He’s come back!” So it seems—when that legendary killer Jason Bourne apparently hits Hong Kong, killing (among others) the visiting Vice-Premier of China. But is this the real “Jason Bourne,” amnesiac US commando David Webb (a.k.a Delta), who (mostly against his will) posed as a super-assassin in order to trap the true-life assassin Carlos (a.k.a. the Jackal) in The Bourne Identity[2]? No, it isn’t! It’s a fake Jason Bourne, a mercenary psycho employed by the evil Sheng, a Peking minister-of-state with secret right-wing takeover plans—plans that will lead to Armageddon in the Far East!! What can the US spymasters do to foil these vile schemes? Well, ruthless weirdos that they are, they decide to use the real Bourne, poor old David Webb (happily retired), to hunt down the fake Bourne and Sheng himself. And since Webb won’t do any of this willingly, the spymasters (in disguise, of course) kidnap Webb’s beloved wife Marie to Hong Kong, threatening to kill her unless Webb captures the fake Bourne. So, for the next 500 repetitious pages, Webb trails the psycho-killer from Hong Kong to Macao to Peking, sprinkling cash and blood and exclamation points as he gets Bourne-ier and Bourne-ier (“Good God!. . .Good Lord!. . .Oh, Christ!”). Meanwhile, Marie escapes with dubious ease from her US captors, becoming a Hong Kong fugitive with help from a Canadian diplomat (“Christ in Calgary, I don’t need this!”). Eventually, with help from an old French ally (“Mon Dieu!”), Webb does nab the fake Bourne: “It was the commando! The impostor! The assassin!” But, after a bloody shootout and a feverish reunion with Marie in H.K., Webb voluntarily heads back into China to assassinate Sheng—because he has now learned just how evil Sheng really is: “He’s Auschwitz, Dachau, and Bergen-Belsen all rolled into one. . . He’s Hitler and Mengele and Genghis Khan. . .the chain-saw killer—whatever—but he has to go.” Here and there Ludlum supplies chunks of crudely effective derring-do: border-crossings by parachute, a chase through Mao’s mausoleum, hand-to-hand combat with flashing knives. Heavy slatherings of Far Eastern local color are mildly diverting. Otherwise, however, Ludlum remains the most garishly inept of suspense storytellers, the most ludicrous and lumbering of unexplainable best-sellers. And readers who keep returning for more of the same—tediously implausible, convolutions, fatuous non-stop dialogue, comic-book narration—will get exactly what they deserve in this headache-inducing sequel.

[1] Kirkus Review, downloaded November 10, 2015

[2] Ludlum, Robert (1980). The Bourne Identity . New York: R. Marek Publishers

The Moscow Vector


Title:                      The Moscow Vector

Author:                  Patrick Larkin

Larkin, Patrick (2008). Robert Ludlum’s The Moscow Vector. New York : St. Martin’s Griffin

LCCN:    2005048378

PS3612.A65 R63 2005

Subjects

Date Updated:  November 6, 2015

Generally, I like Ludlum books, even when co-written. That is not true for other writers, such as Clancy and Cussler. In those cases the characters remain the same, but the stories ring like lead bells to me.

In The Moscow Vector, one might think that time would have taken its toll on the crusty, disgruntled Soviet dinosaurs who want to return Russia to its Communist glory days, but evidently not. Larkin, the lead writer of Ludlum’s Covert One series, has dreamed up a new bunch of hard-liners, armed with HYDRA, a designer poison that singles out and kills victims based on DNA.

With HYDRA having dispatched numerous U.S. and allied intelligence agents, Russian President Viktor Dudarev is poised to launch Operation ZHUKOV, a takeover strike against Kazakhstan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and half of Ukraine. Leading a covert investigation of HYDRA is series regular Lt. Col. Jonathan Smith, U.S. Army molecular biologist and chief operative of super secret spy agency Covert One.

There’s nothing particularly new—HYDRA is an unwieldy weapon (it must be tailor-made for each victim), and super-sleuth Jon spends far too much time ferreting out information that readers have known for hundreds of pages. The threat of a Russian takeover of lost territory may not raise the temperature high enough, and various subplots, such as an attempted assassination of the U.S. president, don’t amount to much. There are plenty of excellent shoot-outs, but Larkin’s last outing, The Lazarus Vendetta, was far more cutting edge.

Medusa’s Child


Title:                  Medusa’s Child

Author:                John J. Nance

Nance, John J. (1997). Medusa’s Child. New York : Doubleday

LCCN:    96027656

PS3564.A546 M43 1997

Subjects

Date Updated:  June 7, 2015

While I like thrillers, and particularly those involving advanced technology, I found this book stretching credibility on a number of things. The crisis of the book develops when a disgruntled U.S. nuclear scientist, formerly working in the U.S. weapons program, wills his ex-wife the unthinkable, a thermonuclear bomb. This is no common nuke. It is engineered to create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) orders of magnitude greater than anything experienced from the largest weapons in the U.S. arsenal.

Before his death, the scientist con’s his ex-wife into taking a so-called “model” of a Medusa device to the Pentagon for analysis. A working Medusa bomb, the theory goes, would knock out all of the working computers in North America, while killing a few million people at the same time. For the purposes of national security, the former Machiavellian husband argues that this information belongs in the hands of our military to study and defend against. But in transit to the nation’s capitol, the model comes alive in the belly of a Boeing 727 air cargo jet, and its inventor speaks from the grave.

Medusa’s Child maybe author John Nance’s finest aviation thriller. The heroes of this novel not only have to battle a bomb to survive, they have to battle horrendous weather, fuel limitations, a screwed up military, a paranoid FBI, and the limitations of their own aging 727. One adversarial situation after another, they just keep coming. And one after another, the pilots keep on flying.

I am not convinced that a 727 could land on the deck of a navy carrier, regardless of how well the scenario is devised. I am unconvinced that there is anyway to boost EMP to the level suggested in the book. The source of the EMP is from radiation absorbed and re-radiated from bomb blast debris. I am willing to give Nance that such a device might be devised, but whoa, what happens in the airplane, especially with hurricane-force winds buffeting the aircraft, just doesn’t fly with me.

My copy of this is from Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Select Editions (1997, Vol. 233, No. 5, pp. 291-445).