In his first novel, Brit Victor Robert Lee is aiming high, his literary creation Cono meant to be on the same lofty level as James Bond and Jason Bourne. In Performance Anomalies, a cloak-and-dagger thriller, the first of a series, the hero is pretty much a cypher.
Performance Anomalies by Victor Robert Lee, 280pp, 2012 Perimeter Six paperback. Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 450 baht
Partly Oriental, born in Brazil, the son of a mathematics teacher and a loving mum, we learn well into the story that his father killed his mother (suspecting her of being unfaithful), then himself. The boy is presented as extraordinary in every way. He understands complex concepts, picks up languages effortlessly, is agile beyond belief.
Cono's growing up is glossed over other than he is well-travelled, his good looks attracting women the world over. He falls in love with Xiao Li, a Chinese prostitute. A beautiful damsel in distress, a phone-call has him rushing to her rescue. (He may or may not be the father of her child.)
Asked about himself, officially and under torture, his replies are infuriatingly vague: he comes from nowhere, works for nobody. The reader gathers that he does freelance espionage jobs _ or does he? He has money, but where he gets it is unclear. At one time he takes a plane. At another he hitchhikes.
The author places the protagonist in Kazakhstan, hitherto known for its sputnik launching station. To hear Lee tell it, it is awash in oil with Bejing the frontrunner buyer, and stocks of Soviet uranium, which the jihadists are determined to get their hands on to make anti-infidel bombs.
Each is unscrupulous and will stop at nothing to achieve their aims. As Cono takes it upon himself to prevent both, he gets on both their death lists. Horror of horrors, Xiao Li is kidnaped, which is a no-no. Captured by each in turn, he escapes death and turns the tables in ways that would make Pearl White proud.
He also takes on people in high places, ultimately causing the government to fall. Corruption is rampant regardless of who is at the top.
Employing knife and handgun, rifle and sub-machine gun, grenade and bomb, not least his physical prowess, Cono contributes to culling the planet's population.
Suzie Wong was a credible heroine a generation ago. Xiao Li Lacks reader appeal to be one now. Cono's "I am me, that's all you have to know" stance strikes this reviewer as being two-dimensional. Not unlike comic-book heroes, he might appeal to be younger headers. Bond or Bourne he is not.
Desert Fire by Phil Campion, 373 pp, 2012, Quercus paperback. Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 350 baht
What price for bravery?
It appears that when volunteering for Britain's elite 22nd SAS regiment, the recruits sign a book contract about their training and experiences under fire. Phil Campion is a recent addition to their literary ranks. That he enjoys soldiering is evident from his serving as a mercenary to keep his hand in. As with any author, how much of what he writes is factual is a moot question. His second novel, Desert Fire has the reader suspending disbelief more than a little.
Thriller writers in virtually all countries try to persuade us that they have super-secret groups which are off-radar, responsible to the president or prime minister or other. Sent to do delicate work of national security, the operations are deniable if they are ever exposed. No awards or rewards when successful.
Campion would have us believe that Blackstone 6 based in London is the exception. It will go on the most dangerous missions, however overwhelming the odds are against them, but not before it is established, "What's in it for me?" So unlikely is this the reader can't be blamed for shaking his or her head throughout.
With the overthrow of the Libyan dictator, his family was also put to death. With one exception, according to the author _ his youngest son. The North African hostile desert people, the Tuaregs, are holding Sultan Gadaffi hostage. Blackstone 6 is assigned to get him and bring him to Europe to stand trial for crimes against humanity.
The sweetener for Blackstone 6 team leader Jack Range is that Sultan knows where his father hid his fortune of a $100 million in gold bullion. While taking on the Tuaregs in a fight lasting a number of chapters, Jack's life is saved by Sultan (who despised his lunatic father) and they become fast friends.
The plot extends to the willingness of France and bribe-taking Brits in high places to assist "lunatic" Moammar's ambitions to become a nuclear power. The latter pages have the Blackstone team hiding the gold from the UK's Revenuers. And there's an unexpected twist re Sultan Gadaffi.
A variety of weapons and munitions are used, time taken to describe every one. Campion notes that the Russian makes are best. He loses no opportunity sticking it to the French.
This reviewer can't see the US Seal Team Six collecting a bonus for taking down bin Loony, but Blackstone 6 doubtless would have. What price for bravery?
About the author
- Writer: Bernard Trink
Position: Freelance Writer