Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Independent book review: Russell Blake’s Jet

If you haven’t yet heard of the force of literature named Russell Blake, crawl out from under that rock and check out his website, blog and pages on Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Amazon and the other usual e-book sellers. It’s time to be brought up to speed.

Blake writes a new novel every couple of months. Notice I didn’t write “churns out”; his pace is amazing, but every work is inspired and professional. He’s not a hack, not a wannabe; he’s the real thing, living the writer’s life somewhere in Mexico.

For his current series, Jet, Russell Blake wanted to create a female James Bond-like character. His heroine, Jet, is highly trained in all the military skills; she's lethal, unstoppable and never makes a mistake. I found myself asking: do people like that really exist? But I almost immediately answered: who cares? Jet is not a deep analysis of the human condition — although there are philosophical aspects to this work. But essentially, Jet is a thrill ride as only Suspense Writer Russell Blake can do it.

Jet has all the elements readers can expect from Russell Blake: it's captivating from the first page, there's action all the way through and the pace never slows down. Bullets fly, bombs explode, Jet kicks high in a tight black leather jumpsuit. I kept imagining Milla Jovovich with long hair, even though I've never seen a Resident Evil movie.

Blake seems to know his way around some exotic locales: Trinidad, Belize, Venezuela, even Tel Aviv and Algiers.

Blake's writing chops are well evident: constant action, a good pace, and lots of details about weapons and tactics that action fans love. I had never heard of SIG guns before reading Jet. The plot is gripping, complex and complete  no plot holes or bizarre coincidences that are hallmarks of writers less skilled than Russell Blake.

Sometimes, it felt like he was showing off with his command of the language. He starts by breaking Elmore Leonard's rule he opens with weather. It takes some skill to pull that off and keep readers reading.
At other times, it reads like Eddie Van Halen's guitar writing: fast, thrilling, but really, Russell, do you have to show off this much? Take this:

The fountain in the middle of the square, thick calcium deposits crusting the pitted centerpiece, hosted a squabble of sparrows intent on bathing in the rainwater accumulated in its base. Drawn by their raucous chirping, he slowed to watch them enjoy their brief reprieve from the oppressive heat.

A pair of flying fish catapulted out of the water off the bow, keeping pace as they surfed the glistening spindrift that danced above the waves, to the steady accompanying throb of the boat's motor.
But it's almost flawless. Really, I found seven typos in the whole book. Yes, I counted.


Jet, the first book in the series, starts with Carnival in Trinidad. Maya owns a small Internet café, which seems like something hard to make a profit with in a third-world country. She's attacked by professional killers, fights back, killing the whole team, or at least all but one. She then flees the country, which sets her on a course back to her past and to figure out who's trying to kill her, and why they're going to such lengths to do it.

We quickly learn that Maya was actually an Israeli super-agent code-named Jet, part of a super-secret, super-skilled and super-effective team with similar hotshot code names like Rain, Fire, Tiger and Lightning. Some time before the action of the book starts, she had faked her own death to get out of the whole assassin trade. She wanted a quieter life, and tried to create one in a tropical backwater.

Of course, life doesn't let her settle down. It turns out that one of her targets as a Mossad assassin had a brother, a Russian multi-billionaire oil tycoon and all-round bad guy. He wants revenge and has hired a top team of assassins to kill Jet. They track her down through the only person who knows that Jet's death was phoney: her old boss and lover, David.

Apart from Jet, all the characters are three-dimensional and believable. My favourite was Dr. Rani Stein, the obese general practitioner  heart of gold, deeply flawed, terrified yet brave. I felt like I knew him, or someone very much like him.

Jet, though, is a different story. She's almost perfect, apart from her aloofness and lack of compassion for just about anyone. I guess if you want to be an unstoppable assassin, you have to be a complete bitch.

To me, Jet was not a believable character: she's too fast, too accurate a shot, too smart ... I mean, how does a single unarmed person kill six professional assassins in a matter of minutes? How can one person be so supremely good at not just planning but also executing an operation where two people eliminate a score of adversaries on their own turf? But then, no super-spy characters are believable. James Bond certainly isn't, no matter how hard actors try to make him so.

And that's not the point of this novel. Jet is a series for lovers of kick-ass action, and Jet delivers a boatload of kickass. No, she's not invulnerable: she has a couple of weak spots, which almost undo her before the book ends. So, while Jet is not believable, she is fallible; the reader can identify with her at a few places in the plot mind you, for me, it's not when she's killing a gunman with one of those pointed receipt-holders you see on a store counter.

So, I'll give this book four stars for its airtight plot, flawless expression, non-stop action and solid characterization; I take one away because I just cannot believe in these superhuman killing machines. They make great movies, but are less satisfying on the printed page.

Once again, Russell Blake proves that the independent author can, and does, deliver a good read.

No comments:

Post a Comment