Friday, January 9, 2015

Ryder: American Treasure by Nick Pengelly


Title: Ryder: American Treasure
Author: Nick Pengelly (no website found)
Publisher: Random House
Rating: WORTHY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Errata:
On page 8 in the Adobe Digital Editions version, there is the full name of the Israeli organization, the Mossad, but one of the characters in the name is rendered as a box with an X in it (X-Box!). In the iPad Bluefire version, there is no problem with this name.
"...cavalry have arrived" is Wong. Calvary is singular. it should be "...cavalry has arrived"

This novel is a mix of Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Robert Langdon, and I found it to be, overall, a worthy read despite some issues I had with it.

I love irony! On page nine of this novel, I read, "…the capitol the British had looted and burned in 1814, during the war of 1812…." This phrase was highly amusing to me because it makes it look like the British were two years late (and a dollar short) with their burning and looting, doesn’t it? The fact is that "the war of 1812" did indeed run for three years!

It’s important to this story because of the burning down of the White House. The conceit here is that something possibly taken from the White House at that time, a letter which might impinge upon the success of a candidate in the current US election campaign, was believed to have ended up in the possession of Lord Kitchener.

A problem I had here was with one of the central premises of this novel: it's not really believable! The contention is that a past US president knew of a spy in a high level position, yet did nothing about it. In that era, where spies were rapidly dispatched via rope or rifle, this made no sense to me, but there's a really nice twist at the end that I did appreciate.

1812 was quite a year. It was a leap year. It was the year when Lord Byron first addressed the House of Lords, the year Robert Browning, Charles Dickens, and Edward Lear were born, and Sacagawea died, and it was the year in which Napoleon introduced metric measurements in France and begun his ill-fated invasion of Russia. It was not the year in which Tchaikovsky wrote his 1812 Overture to commemorate Russia's defence of its homeland against Napoleon.

This novel is the middle of what's so far a trilogy: Ryder, Ryder: American Treasure, and Ryder: Bird of Prey. I have not read any of the others, but I plan on doing so, having found this to my taste, but nevertheless hoping for better in other volumes.

It's about Ayesha Ryder and her tracking down of this "treasure". Ayesha is tall and dusky, of Middle Eastern origin and already accomplished when the novel begins (from the previous volume, Ryder). She's at a ceremony where she was presented with the British George Cross for her services to the nation. She's trying to calculate how quickly she can leave this event without seeming rude, but she's trapped by the formidable trio of Dame Imogen Worsley, the head of MI5 (the Brit equivalent of the FBI), Susannah Armstrong, the Brit prime minister, and the American Secretary of State, Diana Longshore. How cool is that?

Yes, all women. I really want to know why it takes a male writer to put a host of women in prominent positions?! I've read far too many novels by female writers where women are given disturbingly short shrift (if not shift) and it bothers me. I know there are some excellent novels penned by female writers which do give due prominence to female characters, but there is nowhere near enough of these writers.

On the other hand, my fear at that point, once I’d seen this bevy of female influence, was that the author would betray it all by turning Ayesha into some wilting vaporous girl swooning in the arms of some tough American operative as the story progressed. I could only wait and see with baited breath (and baited breath is pretty disgusting when you think about it, so I didn’t like that at all...).

Rest assured that Ayesha turns into no such thing. There was, however, an issue with these powerful women which bothered me and which is hard to discuss without giving away too much, so let me confine myself to saying that lesbianism should be conflated neither with stupidity nor with women in positions of power. The two sets overlap in places, but they are not equal sets!

Ayesha is very much a female Indiana Jones - chasing after the ark of the covenant no less! She's irritated that she's been deflected from her course by some American nonsense in which she has no interest. What she doesn't know is that she's about to come into collision with someone else who has a much greater interest in finding what she's been tasked with uncovering.

In this world which the author has created, Israelis and Palestinians have united and formed a new nation known as the Holy Land, but some movers and shakers in both the US and the Holy land want to return to the days of Israel's independence. There are all kinds of unexpected alliances (and dalliances) and unusual undercurrents in play in this novel, and the power players are not neglected in this wild and crazy interplay, although some of them behave rather foolishly at times and it's a bit hard to credit that a woman would put her position at risk. Unlike men, women know they've not only worked damned hard, but succeeded against the odds to get where they are, and they're not so foolish as to put it all at risk like that. But this is fiction, so I guess it could happen.

As always, no matter how much I may like a given novel, there are issues to be found with it. In this case, the most disturbing one is that Ayesha isn't always presented as the smartest cookie in the box (or, since this is set in Britain, I guess I should say, 'biscuit in the barrel'. I can understand a need to have your prize character have flaws, and to put him or her into gripping situations in a novel like this, but in my opinion, integrity and faithfulness to your character trump excitement every time!

For example, at one point in this story, when under fire, Ayesha could have used a truck to shield her friend and protect him from gunfire, but she never thinks to do it, exposing him to the fire by her thoughtless inaction. Now you can argue that she wasn't thinking straight, but this takes place immediately after we're given a flashback which shows us how admirably cool and calculating she is when her life is threatened.

At another point, someone tries to set her up as a murderer. This stupid given who she is and how well-known and well-connected she is, but the plan is to kill her so she can't clear her name. This is also flawed (as the finale shows!). The author went for dramatics rather than realism, which can sometimes work and be more entertaining, but it can also back-fire. In this case it seems to me that a deadly killer like the one who is after her, would use much a more simple, sure, and direct method of assault. It's issues like this which repeatedly kick a reader out of a story.

At one point Ayesha directly observes an easily-identifiable man planting an object which will set her up as a murder suspect. Immediately afterwards, she runs into a cop who she knocks out. If she had taken a second to tell him that she saw someone plant the object and tell him where it is, before disabling him, she would have been in a lot stronger position. Instead, she knocks him out and runs, and makes herself look guilty.

Indeed, she assaults several police officers quite brutally over the course of her escape, almost killing one, and pays no kind of penalty whatsoever for this. That was too much of a stretch, and her actions only served as a confirmation of her guilt. I began actually disliking her during this part of the story and wondering if I really wanted to read on. I'm sure that's not what the writer intended, but it is what was achieved in my case. It's hard to like characters who are, we're told, smart, but who routinely act foolishly! Fortunately things improved.

Ayesha personally knows some very important people, yet never once does she consider calling any of them to let them know what's going on. Instead she runs like she's guilty, and acts like she's guilty, and thereby digs herself deeper into the hole which has already been opened-up for her by the very people who are trying to set her up! She plays right into their hands, which doesn't make her seem very smart.

Fortunately the villain is even less smart. He's one of these James Bond types who monologues instead of dispatching his captured secret agent and accompanying love interest du jour Fortunately, I was on-board sufficiently with this novel that I was willing to let a few clunkers get by, but I do have my limit! This author managed to avoid exceeding it, and on top of that gave us a non-white, non-American, non-male hero, and I think that deserves encouragement. So here's to more - and steadily improving quality - volumes!


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